Just before the weekend started, the federal jury in the trial of former Luis Nazario found the former marine not guilty. Good for him, I suppose. As a public defender, I enjoy hearing when the DA loses a case. I like it when someone is found not guilty, and a jury stands up for the rule of law. Whenever I hear a jury say (to me or to anyone else) "there just wasn't enough evidence to justify a guilty verdict," my heart skips a beat. That means that the jury was actually listening to the instructions about reasonable doubt.
Of course, the Nazario verdict cuts another way, a way that I am not fond of. He's a cop (temporarily former, but he'll probably get his job back) and he was a marine at the time. A jury will typically bend over backwards to help this kind of defendant. The minority defendant who claims that the rock of crack was planted on him by a bad cop will lose every time, but the former war-hero-turned-cop will win every time.
In fairness, the case against Nazario was actullay pretty tough to prove. Two witnesses, Sgt. Ryan Wheemer (whose confession during a background check started the whole thing) and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, both refused to testify against Nazario and were found in contempt of court. Both still face murder charges in their upcoming courts-martial trials (although I seriously question whether there will be a different result). Both Wheemer and Nelson had been granted immunity, but neither was willing to rat on Nazario.
The witnesses called by the prosecution said that they did not see Nazario kill anyone, but heard the gunshots. There apparently were no forensics and no identities to back up the prosecution case.
There has been some discussion about whether civilian juries are "prepared to judge in cases of soldiers in combat" and I suppose that that is a fair question. But I have a different one: what on earth was the US Attorney thinking when he prepared and tried this case? I mean, really, how did he expect to get a conviction without eyewitnesses? Without forensic evidence? He knew these two witnesses would not testify. Why didn't he stop there? Without some serious proof that Nazario either killed people after they had surrendered, or that he had ordered their killing, why did he/she proceed?
The killing of people after they have surrenedered is, and always has been, a bad thing. I was and am against all the torture stuff that happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (and the whole Iraq War, for that matter), primarily because of the human costs and atrocities. But I also don't like the idea of doing those things because later, when our people are captured, I want to be able to raise some righteous indignation to possibly prevent torture of our people if and when they are captured. That's the whole point of the Geneva Conventions - our people have some hope that their captors will treat them better if they are afraid that the whole world will vilify them if they mistreat captured soldiers.
Long ago I was in the National Guard (and the Army before that) and there was talk of us being activated to go to the first Iraq War. It never happened (thankfully), and that war turned out to be very brief. But during that time my fellow soldiers and I had a great discussion about the Geneva Conventions. I remember one guy in particular saying he simply wouldn't abide by "any of that stuff" and that he would kill everyone, even those who surrendered to him. To him the Geneva Conventions was "for pussies." I think he was joking (he sure sounded serious), and I remember that some were swayed by his nonsense talk. I even quizzed what he would do if, like 20 or 30 Iraqis surrendered to him all at once. He said that he would kill all "those ragheads" (his words, definitely not mine). Again, some others were swayed by his nonsense talk.
Later, when Desert Storm turned into such a huge cakewalk (thankfully) and the Iraqis were surrendering in droves, I saw a tape where 1000+ Iraqis tried to surrender to a predator drone. I'm really glad that neither I, nor my fellow Guardsmen went to that war. Or any war, for that matter. Learning how to kill is important in the military. But learning when NOT to kill is also important. I think that this kind of testing, moral and otherwise, happens all the time in Iraq today. And it is also frequently present on our city streets, tested by police officers frequently.
The Guest PD Blogger