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Trial begins for ex-Marine accused in killings in Iraq

August 22, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

A jury of nine women and three men, only one a military veteran, heard opening statements Thursday in the federal trial of a former Marine accused of killing unarmed detainees in Fallouja, Iraq.

Jose Luis Nazario Jr., 28, is the first civilian to be tried under a federal law that allows the prosecution of a former Marine or soldier for actions during combat. Nazario is accused in the killing of four Iraqi prisoners on Nov. 9, 2004.

In his opening statement in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles Kovats described Nazario as a man who killed "unarmed, submissive, docile" detainees and violated the Marines' rules that call for humane treatment of prisoners.

"He failed to do what he was educated to do," Kovats said. Looking at the jury, he said, "I am going to ask you to have honor, courage and commitment by convicting Nazario."

Nazario undercut the U.S. mission in Iraq, Kovats said, by losing "the high moral ground that distinguishes the Marines from the insurgents."

Defense attorney Kevin McDermott said Nazario killed insurgents to aid his fellow Marines. "There really is only one rule in combat: We keep each other alive," he told the jury.

McDermott said prosecutors did not have names or forensic evidence, and they could not find the house where the alleged crimes occurred to confirm the statements of certain Marines when they went back to investigate. "They're not going to be able to prove anybody was killed in the house," he said. "The defense is here to tell you these acts did not occur as the prosecution says."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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