CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine charged with killing an unarmed detainee in Fallujah, Iraq, was jailed by a federal judge for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating a former comrade.
Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson was to have been arraigned at Camp Pendleton in San Diego on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty stemming from a Nov. 9, 2004, incident, but failed to appear in court.
His attorney told a military judge that a federal judge ordered Nelson jailed for refusing to testify before grand jury about Jose Nazario, a former Marine charged in the killings of two captured insurgents.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson issued the order after Nelson told him he would not testify as a prosecution witness against Nazario, said Nelson's attorney, Joseph Low.
U.S. attorney's office spokesman Thom Mrozek said that Nelson was found in contempt of court and jailed, but the court filings in the case are under seal and he could not comment further.
Nelson is one of three charged in the case that centers on allegations that a Marine squad shot a group of unarmed captives during heavy fighting in November 2004.
Nazario, 27, has been charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of two captives. Because he completed his military service, the former sergeant faces charges in federal court. He is scheduled to be tried in July.
Low said Nelson could be held until he either agrees to testify, the case is adjudicated or he serves the maximum 18 months, whichever comes first.
"I advised my client that if he chooses not to testify, he should be prepared to do 18 months in federal prison. He said 'I'm willing to do 18 months,"' Low said.
The federal judge's contempt order puts pressure on the military's case against Nelson.
Military prosecutors have 120 days to begin proceedings once a defendant is charged. Low said time is running out in the case of Nelson, who was charged in December.
The charges allege Nelson "did murder an unknown detained person by means of shooting him with a loaded firearm." Nelson faces life imprisonment if convicted of murder.
He is also accused of being derelict in his duty for failing to follow the rules of engagement, how to treat enemy prisoners of war and how to care for detainees in a combat zone.
Prosecutors say that on Nov. 9, 2004, the Marines captured men they believed had been shooting at them and killed them.
The investigation began after Ryan Weemer, a former corporal from the squad, took a lie-detector test for a Secret Service job. He described the killings when he was asked if he had participated in a wrongful death. Weemer is charged with murder and dereliction of duty.
The Marines were part of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.