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Marine acquitted in slaying of Iraqi prisoner

April 9, 2009 | 10:12 am

Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer was acquitted today of all charges linked to the killing of an Iraqi prisoner during a 2004 battle in Fallouja.Weemer, 26, was charged with killing a prisoner on the first day of the U.S. assault on insurgent strongholds. His squad, like many others, had been ordered to

Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer was acquitted today of all charges linked to the killing of an Iraqi prisoner during a 2004 battle in Fallouja.

At Camp Pendleton, the jury of eight officers deliberated for seven hours over two days before announcing its decision. Weemer's sister, mother and attorney broke down in tears when the verdict was read. Weemer stood straight, but his eyes began tearing.

Weemer, 26, was charged with killing a prisoner on the first day of the U.S. assault on insurgent strongholds. His squad, like many others, had been ordered to "clear" houses of insurgents, many of whom were barricaded and heavily armed.

Even before the sweep could begin, Weemer's best friend, Lance Cpl. Juan Segura, was fatally wounded by a sniper. In a 90-minute interview with a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in 2006, Weemer told of being covered with Segura's blood when his squad burst into a home and found four "military-age" males and several weapons.

A superior, informed about the prisoners, asked over the radio "Are they dead yet?" according to Weemer's statement. Weemer said he initially resisted an order from his squad leader, Sgt. Jose  Nazario, that he help in killing the four so that the Marines could continue to the next house.

But he said he relented because Nazario was a superior. In his interview with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, Weemer said he shot the insurgent twice in the chest and instantly felt remorseful. No mention was made of self-defense in that interview.

But two of his former squad members, called by Weemer's defense attorney, testified that soon after the killing, Weemer told them he shot the prisoner because he had lunged for his gun. The incident would probably never have come to the attention of military brass except for Weemer's job interview with the Secret Service in 2006 when he was working at Starbucks in Missouri.

The Secret Service interview led to an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and then criminal charges. Nazario was acquitted in federal court in Riverside in August of killing two of the prisoners and ordering the killing of the other two.

Civilian jurors said they felt it was improper for them to be asked to judge an action taken in combat. Nazario had left the Marine Corps and could not be tried by court-martial. Sgt. Jermaine Nelson also was  charged in the case.

Nelson has confessed to killing an insurgent. Weemer's lead defense attorney, Paul Hackett, argued that his client was caught in a chaotic day and given a direct order by a superior.

But the lead prosecutor, Capt. Nicholas Gannon, noted that other Marines, also part of the assault, followed their orders to treat prisoners humanely even if it meant leaving the battlefield to take them to a makeshift jail. Hundreds of prisoners were taken during the opening of the assault, Gannon noted.

-- Tony Perry

Photo: Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer was acquitted today of all charges linked to the killing of an Iraqi prisoner during a 2004 battle in Fallouja.Weemer, 26, was charged with killing a prisoner on the first day of the U.S. assault on insurgent strongholds. His squad, like many others, had been ordered to "clear" houses of insurgents, many of whom were barricaded and heavily armed. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / AP

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