MILITARY: Marine acquitted on all counts
Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer and his attorney, Paul Hackett, smile shortly after Weemer's acquittal Thursday by a Camp Pendleton jury. Weemer was charged with killing an unarmed prisoner in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq. (Photo by Mark Walker - Staff Photographer)
Jury clears Sgt. Ryan Weemer in POW shooting
By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer
Thursday, April 9, 2009 8:25 PM PDT
CAMP PENDLETON ---- U.S. Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer was acquitted by a military jury Thursday of murdering an unarmed Iraqi insurgent during fierce fighting in the city of Fallujah in 2004
"It's been a long, hard year," Weemer said following the verdict. "It was rough over there. Dealing with that is a lifelong process, I believe, and being questioned about it is really hard. It brings stuff back up."
Weemer, 26, said the jury of eight officers, all of whom had combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, made the right decision, and he maintained he never committed a crime.
"I was justified in what I did over there," the Illinois native said.
The verdict came after much testimony over the last two weeks about the moral and ethical uncertainties that often arise during combat, particularly in the kind of house-to-house fighting that took place in Fallujah.
Weemer was charged last year with the civilian equivalent of second-degree murder and dereliction of duty. Prosecutors alleged that he killed one of four captive insurgents slain inside a Fallujah home on Nov. 9, 2004.
They contended he and two other members of a Kilo Company squad from Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment executed unarmed prisoners they had captured.
The killings are said to have occurred after the squad leader, former Marine Sgt. Jose L. Nazario Jr., reported capturing the insurgents and being ordered to "take care of it" and asked, "Are they dead yet?" Nazario then is alleged to have directed squad members to take part in the killings.
Weemer's defense maintained the man he killed had "lunged" for his weapon during a chaotic few minutes inside the home.
But Weemer never specifically raised that defense in two taped interviews with investigators in 2006. It was in one of those, a session with the Secret Service for a job interview after he left the military, that Weemer disclosed the incident.
The court-martial's outcome was another blow for Camp Pendleton prosecutors, who have struggled to win convictions of Marines accused of wrongdoing in war.
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps judge and a military law expert, said Weemer's acquittal follows a pattern.
"What you appear to have had here was a sympathetic military jury unwilling to find a young man guilty for something that happened in combat," Solis said.
When the not-guilty verdict was read after six hours of deliberation, Weemer hugged his attorney, Paul Hackett, who broke into tears. Weemer's wife, sister and high school English teacher also cried.
Weemer said the toughest part was having to relive the killing of his best friend, Lance Cpl. Juan Segura, who was shot by a sniper shortly before the incident that led to his being charged. Prosecutors suggested Weemer shot the captive insurgent in retaliation for Segura's killing.
Weemer had told investigators he tried to save Segura's life and spent the next four days in Fallujah with much of his uniform covered in Segura's blood and "matted with flies."
After talking with jurors, Hackett said they were convinced the men slain inside the home were insurgents.
"Make no mistake, these people in that house were dirty, son-of-a-bitch insurgents with one thought on their minds ---- to kill Marines," Hackett said after the trial. "They got what they deserved, and if Americans don't like that, tough luck."
Prosecutors said Weemer admitted in the interviews with investigators that he shot the man and told a squadmate that he would "have to live with that for the rest of my life."
Nazario was tried and acquitted last year on two counts of manslaughter. Nazario was tried as a civilian because he was no longer subject to recall, as was Weemer.
The third suspect, Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, is scheduled for trial later this year.
Weemer was wounded four days after the incident as the squad fought insurgents in a different house. Another man wounded in that fight was Navy Cross recipient Sgt. Maj. Brad Kasal, who testified on Monday about the ferocity of the fight in Fallujah and praised Weemer's skills and dedication.
The failure to win a conviction on murder or lesser offenses is the latest in a string of such defeats for prosecutors. Seven of eight Camp Pendleton men charged with wrongdoing in the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha have been exonerated.
In some cases involving unlawful killings in Iraq, juries have found guilt, yet not recommended jail time. Instead, many of those who have been convicted were allowed to leave the Marine Corps.
Another military law expert, Scott Silliman of Duke University, said the lack of bodies, and the fact that no names have been attached to the victims and there were no eyewitnesses also made it hard to win a conviction.
"Jury instructions are very specific about guilt being determined beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "If there was insufficient evidence here, then the jury finding was correct."
Silliman also said the Marine Corps has to seriously reconsider its case against Nelson.
"I think you should anticipate a trial, because there was a hearing that decided he should go to trial," he said. "But if the convening authority sits back and says there is simply a paucity of evidence, then it is within his discretion to dismiss the charges."
The Fallujah prosecution shouldn't sully the troop bravery exhibited at Fallujah, said Bing West, a former Marine Corps infantry officer and author of a book that chronicled Weemer's unit during the fight.
"Those Marines fought bravely, and after all of this is done, it is their valor that should be remembered," he said.
Weemer said he hopes to return to college, get his degree and perhaps re-enter the Marine Corps as an officer.
That would be a just outcome, Hackett said.
"He's a great Marine," he said, "and I think he is the type of Marine the Marine Corps should cherish, nurture, develop and maintain. He's the type of guy the Marine Corps is built on."
Weemer said that despite all he has been through, he isn't bitter.
"I love the Marine Corps too much," he said.
Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marine Acquitted of Murder in Iraq Slaying
By Elliot Spagat
April 9, 2009
Camp Pendleton, Calif. - A military jury has acquitted an Illinois Marine sergeant on charges of murdering an unarmed detainee during battle in Fallujah, Iraq.
The jury of eight Marines who served in Iraq or Afghanistan also acquitted Sgt. Ryan Weemer on Thursday of dereliction of duty in the November 2004 death.
Weemer could have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison and dishonorable discharge if convicted of murder. The maximum sentence for dereliction is six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
The defense argued during closing arguments that the 26-year-old Weemer acted in self-defense.
A prosecutor recounted that Weemer said in recorded interviews that he shot the man and told a squadmate that he would have to live with that for the rest of his life.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.