IRAQ: Lawyer: Marine tricked in prisoner killing case
Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson made admissions during a taped interview with a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent that could go a long way toward convicting him of killing Iraqi prisoners during the fight for Fallouja in late 2004.
On the tape, played in a preliminary hearing last week at Camp Pendleton, Nelson said that he, Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jose Nazario fatally shot four prisoners rather than take time to process them according to the laws of war.
But Joseph Low, Nelson's attorney, argued in a Camp Pendleton courtroom Monday that the statements should be ruled inadmissible because they were obtained, in effect, through trickery.
Low told a judge, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Meeks, that the NCIS agent did not read Nelson his rights until midway through the interrogation. Also, Low said, Nelson had just been told by a noncommissioned officer that he had done nothing wrong and thus felt he was free to talk in gruesome detail.
It's common in military and civilian courts for defense attorneys to try to keep juries from hearing damaging statements their clients made to the police.
But the issue of whether the Marine Corps has protected the legal rights of Marines accused of abuse in Iraq has arisen before.
The prosecution of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander in the Haditha case involving the deaths of 24 Iraqis in 2005, may unravel unless the prosecutors succeed in getting an appeals court to overrule a military judge. That judge, Col. Steven Folsom, ruled that the convening authority erred by letting a lawyer involved in the early investigation of the Haditha killings sit in on meetings where the case was discussed.
If the Chessani case falls apart, the case against Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader whose troops did the killings in Haditha, may also be thrown out on similar grounds.
In the Nelson case, Meeks set a hearing for later in the summer to hear arguments.
Tony Perry, at Camp Pendleton.
Photo: Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, accused of murder in the alleged killing of prisoners in Fallouja in late 2004.