- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. (AP) - A court-martial began Tuesday for a Marine accused of killing an unarmed captive in Iraq in a case officials knew nothing about until the defendant took a polygraph test as he applied for a job in the Secret Service.

An attorney for Sgt. Ryan Weemer told the jury that prosecutors cannot prove their case because they have no body, no forensic evidence and no relatives complaining of a lost loved one. But prosecutors have at least one recording of the 26-year-old saying he shot a man.

Weemer, of Hindsboro, Ill., is accused of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty stemming from a November 2004 firefight in Fallujah.

In 2006, after he left the Marine Corps, he applied for a job in the Secret Service. During a polygraph test as part of the application, he was asked about the most serious crime he ever committed.

“We went into this house, there happened to be four or five guys in the house,” Weemer said in a recording of the interview played during the prosecution’s opening statement. “We ended up shooting them, we had to.”

The U.S. military had ordered all civilians out of Fallujah ahead of an assault aimed at recapturing the city from insurgents. “Operation Phantom Fury” involved vicious house-to-house fighting.

Weemer said in the interview that the unarmed Iraqis were slain because the Marines didn’t have time to take the men to jail.

“We called up to the platoon leader and the response was, ‘Are they dead yet?’” Weemer said in the recording.

The account triggered a criminal investigation and led to Weemer being recalled to active duty to face military prosecution.

Weemer’s attorney, Paul Hackett, said the government must first prove a killing even occurred. He said any shootings were ordered by Weemer’s squad leader, who had lost control of the situation during his first firefight.

Weemer is accused of killing one man. Prosecutors allege a total of four Iraqis were killed after being captured in a house where weapons were found.

The court-martial will include testimony for the defense by a lieutenant colonel who helped write the rules of engagement for the battle.

Other witnesses, to be called by the government, will include former squad members who were not charged in the case, Hackett said.

Weemer’s squad leader, Jose Nazario, was beyond the reach of a Marine recall after the investigation because he had completed his military obligations.

He was tried in U.S. District Court and found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.

Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson also pleaded not guilty to unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty. His court-martial was indefinitely postponed after his attorney filed a flurry of last-minute motions.

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