Marine Ordered to Stand Trial in Fallujah Killings
Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland ordered the court-martial of Sgt. Ryan Weemer after finding there was sufficient evidence to send him to trial.
Weemer is one of three current and former Marines accused of breaking rules of engagement and killing four men they had captured after a platoon commander radioed to ask whether the Iraqis were "dead yet."
A telephone message left by for Weemer's attorney, Paul Hackett, was not immediately returned.
The killings occurred in November 2004 during the invasion of Fallujah, one of the fiercest ground battles of the Iraq war.
The case came to light in 2006, when Weemer volunteered details to a U.S. Secret Service job interviewer during a lie-detector screening that included a question about the most serious crime he had ever committed.
Weemer, of Hindsboro, Ill., is charged with one count of murder and six counts of dereliction of duty encompassing failure to follow the rules of engagement in Fallujah and failing to follow standard operating procedures for apprehending or treating detainees or civilian prisoners of war.
Helland's decision to order the court-martial follows an Article 32 hearing, similar to an evidentiary hearing, where prosecutors argued that Weemer, a burly 25-year-old honored with a Purple Heart, should be tried for unpremeditated murder because he knew the rules of engagement forbade harming anyone in his custody.
"I don't think it is anything that was unexpected," Weemer's attorney, Paul Hackett, said of Helland's decision. He said he expects Weemer to be exonerated.
During the hearing last month, prosecutors played a tape recording of the Secret Service interview where Weemer recounted arguing with his squadmates about what to do with the detainees - all military-age males captured in a house where weapons were also found. The squad was under pressure from the platoon to get moving.
Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. David Griesmer said Weemer next faces arraignment on the charges at Camp Pendleton. A date has not been set.
Helland, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Central Command, followed the recommendations of Maj. Glen Hines, the investigating officer, to order the court-martial.
Weemer's attorney has put much of the blame on Weemer's former squad leader, saying Jose Nazario Jr. escalated the situation inside the house by beating one detainee with the butt of a rifle after the weapons cache was found.
"Sgt. Weemer acted in self-defense," Hackett said. "We strongly believe there is credible evidence to show that."
Nazario, 27, of Riverside, Calif., was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the killings of two captives, but a spokesman for federal prosecutors said Friday that the charges changed with a superseding indictment handed down in June.
The former sergeant is now charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter for allegedly killing or causing others to kill four unarmed detainees, along with one count of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. The charges were filed in federal court because he has already completed his military service.
Nazario has pleaded not guilty; his trial is set to begin Aug. 19.
Nazario's attorney, Joseph Preis, said they were puzzled by the enhanced weapons charges.
"We are very disappointed by this, and find it incredibly ironic that the same government that put the rifle in his hand is now seeking to up the ante because of his alleged use of that rifle," Preis said.
"We've got to remember that everybody in Fallujah had a rifle, good guys and bad guys, and to single out Sgt. Nazario for the alleged use of that rifle in the charged offense really paints the picture of what the government seeks to do here."
Another Marine, Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, 26, of New York is slated to be court-martialed in December on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty for his role in the alleged killings.
Although he has not entered a formal plea in military court, Nelson's attorney has repeatedly said his client was innocent.
Nelson and Weemer had both been jailed in June for contempt of court for refusing to testify against Nazario before a federal grand jury believed to be investigating the case. Both were released July 3 and returned to Camp Pendleton.
© 2008 The Associated Press