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Marine says he is tormented over killing of Iraqi prisoner

Sgt. Ryan Weemer, in a tape-recording played at his court martial, says he wants to forget what happened in Fallouja in 2004. He is accused of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty.

April 02, 2009|Tony Perry

CAMP PENDLETON — A Marine Corps sergeant charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner told an investigator that he is tormented by the shooting and has tried to forget what happened that day in Fallouja in 2004, according to a tape-recording played Wednesday at his court-martial.

In the recording, Sgt. Ryan Weemer talked of being covered with the blood of his best friend, who was killed by a sniper, and then minutes later being ordered by his squad leader to kill an Iraqi taken prisoner when Marines stormed a house.

"I grabbed a gun and took him to the back of the house," Weemer is heard telling two agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. "I shot him twice in the chest."

Weemer, 26, is charged with unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty, and could face a dishonorable discharge and life in prison. His jury is comprised of eight Marines, all with experience in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

During the 90-minute interview, conducted in 2006, Weemer did not say that the prisoner tried to grab his gun -- although he had said that a month earlier during a job interview with the Secret Service.

Instead, Weemer told of arguing with his squad leader, then-Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, against the order to kill prisoners and then acquiescing. "I definitely wasn't the type to disobey an order," he said.

Nazario was acquitted in Riverside federal court in August of killing two prisoners and ordering Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson to each kill one.

The incident occurred on the first day of the Marine assault on insurgent strongholds in Fallouja on Nov. 9, 2004. Prosecutors allege that the Marines killed the prisoners rather than take time to leave the battlefield and take them to a makeshift jail.

"This happened in a split-second; this happened in the fog of war," Weemer said. "I pulled the trigger and I don't feel right about it."

Weemer was no longer on active duty and was working at a Starbucks in Chesterfield, Mo., when he sought a job with the Secret Service. He mentioned the killings to a job interviewer, which led to a criminal investigation. He was recalled to active duty to stand trial.

In the interview, Weemer, his voice occasionally full of emotion, said that during the first day of the Fallouja battle he saw "too much death in a few hours." He said he rarely talks to anyone about what happened during the battle.

"You never feel right about anything," he said. "It doesn't matter how right it is . . . I did what I did because I had to."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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