updated 9/29/2009 2:16:56 PM ET 2009-09-29T18:16:56

A military judge has dismissed a murder charge against a Marine accused of killing an unarmed detainee in Iraq.

The charge against Sgt. Jermaine Nelson was dismissed Tuesday at Camp Pendleton after he agreed to plead guilty to dereliction of duty.

His attorney Joseph Low says the plea agreement calls for no prison time and an honorable discharge.

The 28-year-old Nelson could have faced up to life in prison if convicted of murder.

Nelson was among three Marines accused of killing detainees in 2004 during house-to-house fighting to recapture Fallujah.

One of Nelson's squadmates was acquitted by a military jury of the same charges in April. Nelson's squad leader was acquitted last year in federal court on counts that included voluntary manslaughter.

Nelson's court-martial had been scheduled to begin Tuesday. He had earlier pleaded not guilty to unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty in the November 2004 deaths. The Marines were involved in vicious house-to-house fighting to recapture Fallujah from insurgents.

Nelson was the only remaining defendant in a case that has resulted in two defeats for the government. Nelson's squadmate, Sgt. Ryan Weemer, was acquitted by a military jury of the same charges in April. That jury consisted of eight Marines, all of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nelson's squad leader, former Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, was acquitted last year in federal court in Riverside, Calif., on counts that included voluntary manslaughter. Nazario was beyond the reach of a court-martial because he had completed his military obligations.

During Weemer's one-week court-martial at Camp Pendleton, the defense argued that the government could not prove Weemer was guilty of murder because there were no bodies, no relatives complaining of a lost loved one and no forensic evidence.

The case came to light long after the battle.

In 2006, after he left the Marine Corps, Weemer applied for a job in the Secret Service. During a background interview before 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 his trial. "We ended up shooting them, we had to."

Weemer's account triggered an investigation that led to the charges.

Nelson's squad was from Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the same company that a year later was involved in the widely publicized killings of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq. None of the Marines from the Fallujah case were involved in the Haditha case.

Eight Marines were charged in the Haditha killings, the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops to come out of the Iraq war. Charges were dismissed against six defendants and a seventh was acquitted. The sole remaining defendant is the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, whose court-martial is not scheduled.

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