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Archive for Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ex-Marine’s acquittal sparks debate over law

August 30, 2008

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— Some members of the civilian jury that acquitted a former Marine accused of war crimes in Iraq say they weren't qualified to judge actions in combat, and military and legal experts said the case raises serious questions about whether federal prosecutors should even pursue such cases.

"I don't think we had any business doing that," said juror Nicole Peters, who wiped away tears during Thursday's verdict and later hugged the defendant, Jose Luis Nazario Jr.

Some jurors hugged and shook hands with Nazario, his mother and his attorneys after Nazario was cleared in the killing of four unarmed Iraqi detainees.

"It's a very reasoned response from those jurors because they apparently recognized this was not something they were well-suited to determine," said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University Law Center.

John D. Hutson, dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center and a retired Navy rear admiral, countered that jurors routinely sit in judgment of actions they have never experienced.

"How many jurors have been involved in a domestic dispute in which a person was killed? None. You don't put those people on a jury," he said.

Nazario, 28, of Riverside, Calif., was the first military veteran brought to trial under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which was written in 2000 and amended in 2004 primarily to allow prosecution of civilian contractors who commit crimes while working for the U.S. overseas.

It also allows the prosecution of military dependents and those who have completed their term of military service.

The evidence against Nazario included testimony by former comrades who heard gunshots but did not see the shooting that occurred on Nov. 9, 2004, during house-to-house fighting in Fallujah during "Operation Phantom Fury."

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