Ex-Marine’s testimony links squad leader to Iraqi prisoner killings

The former lance corporal says he saw Sgt. Jose Nazario standing over a dead Iraqi while holding an M-16 during a 2004 raid in Fallouja. Nazario is accused in the slayings of four unarmed Iraqis.

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
August 27, 2008

A former Marine testified in federal court Tuesday that he saw Sgt. Jose Nazario standing over a dead Iraqi, with an M-16 in his hands, just seconds after he heard a gunshot from the room where Nazario was holding Iraqi prisoners.

Former Lance Cpl. Corey Carlisle also testified that before he heard the gunshot, he heard Nazario trying to talk a Marine into helping him kill Iraqi prisoners.

Carlisle was the first witness to testify in federal court in Riverside about the events of Nov. 9, 2004, when the Marine squad stormed a house in Fallouja.

"I consider this the worst day in my life, something I will never forget," he told jurors.

Nazario, the squad leader, is charged with manslaughter, assault and use of a firearm in the alleged execution of four unarmed Iraqi prisoners. He has pleaded not guilty. The case against Nazario has drawn national attention because it is the first time under a little-known 2000 law that a former member of the military is being tried in federal court in an alleged crime committed in combat.

Carlisle, 26, who is now a college student in Salt Lake City, told jurors that he was part of the squad that entered the house and came upon four unarmed Iraqi men. He said the Marines captured the men, and he and others went on to search the house. During the search, he said, he overheard Nazario asking another Marine to help him kill the Iraqis. He said he heard the other Marine refuse to do so. Carlisle said he then came upon the Marine with whom Nazario had been talking -- Lance Cpl. James Prentice. Prentice, he said, had already been shaken by the death of a friend a few hours earlier.

"I tried to calm Prentice down. I told him, 'We don't want to be part of this,' " Carlisle said of what was going on in the house. "I tried to find us an exit."

Not long after, as he continued to search the house, he said, he heard a shot fired and found Sgt. Ryan Weemer standing with his 9-millimeter handgun in his hand over one of the Iraqi men, who was dead. Soon after, he heard a second shot and found Nazario, holding his M-16, standing over another dead Iraqi prisoner. The dead man was lying on his back, shot in the head. The two remaining Iraqi prisoners stood terrified nearby, Carlisle testified. "It's something I won't forget, the dread on their faces," he said. "That's the face I saw on both men -- dread."

At that point, Carlisle told jurors, he wanted out of the house. As he left, he said, he heard two more gunshots -- presumably signaling that the last two prisoners had been shot.

Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, who remain on active duty, face murder charges in military court in the shooting deaths.

In separate interviews before they retained counsel, Weemer and Nelson said that, upon orders from Nazario, they each killed a prisoner and Nazario killed two. Weemer's admission came in a job interview with the Secret Service; Nelson made his admission to an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Another member of the platoon, Samuel Severtsgaard, testified Tuesday about encountering Carlisle shortly after he left the house.

Severtsgaard, who was then a lance corporal and now works as a security guard in Minnesota, described Carlisle as shaken and speechless. He said Carlisle wouldn't respond when he tried to speak to him. Carlisle's demeanor, he said, prompted him to enter the house, where he found the four bodies -- three men shot in the head, one in the chest.

When he left the house and saw Carlisle again, he said, Carlisle told him, "It wasn't me."

Weemer and Nelson had been scheduled to be the prosecution's star witnesses in Nazario's trial, but they refused to testify despite a warning from the judge that they could be sent to jail for contempt of court.

The two asserted their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination even though the judge promised them that their testimony would not be used against them in their upcoming courts-martial at Camp Pendleton. Larson had jailed both Marines earlier this year for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

He released them when he decided that additional time behind bars would not persuade them to testify.

Last week, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jerry Behnke, the lead prosecutor, told Larson that Nelson had refused a plea bargain offered by military prosecutors. The deal, he said, would include dropping the murder charge, a guilty plea to dereliction of duty and a promise to cooperate with federal and military prosecutors. Under the deal, Nelson could remain in the Marines, Behnke said.

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