A Marine sergeant was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty in the killing of an unarmed detainee in Fallujah, Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland ordered the court-martial of Sgt. Ryan Weemer after finding there was sufficient evidence to send him to trial.
Weemer is one of three current and former Marines accused of breaking rules of engagement and killing four men they had captured after a platoon commander radioed to ask whether the Iraqis were "dead yet."
A telephone message left for Weemer's attorney, Paul Hackett, was not immediately returned.
The killings happened in November 2004 during the invasion of Fallujah, one of the fiercest ground battles of the Iraq war.
Job interview led to inquiry
The case came to light in 2006, when Weemer volunteered details to a U.S. Secret Service job interviewer during a polygraph screening that included a question about the most serious crime he had ever committed.
Weemer is charged with one count of murder and six counts of dereliction of duty encompassing failure to follow the rules of engagement in Fallujah and failing to follow standard operating procedures for apprehending or treating detainees or civilian prisoners of war.
Helland's decision to order the court-martial follows an Article 32 hearing, similar to an evidentiary hearing, where prosecutors argued that Weemer, a burly 25-year-old honored with a Purple Heart, should be tried for unpremeditated murder because he knew the rules of engagement forbade harming anyone in his custody.
During the hearing last month, prosecutors played a tape recording of the Secret Service interview where Weemer recounted arguing with his squadmates about what to do with the detainees — all military-age males captured in a house where weapons were also found. The squad was under pressure from the platoon to get moving.
Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. David Griesmer said Weemer next faces arraignment on the charges at the military base Camp Pendleton. A date has not been set.
Blame cast on squad leader
Weemer's attorney has put much of the blame on Weemer's former squad leader, saying Jose Nazario Jr. escalated the situation inside the house by beating one detainee with the butt of a rifle after the weapons cache was found.
Nazario, 27, has been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of two captives. The former sergeant, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is scheduled to be tried Aug. 19 in federal court because he has already completed his military service.
Another Marine, Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, 26, is slated to be court-martialed in December on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty for his role in the alleged killings.
Although he has not entered a formal plea in military court, Nelson's attorney has repeatedly said his client was innocent.
Nelson and Weemer had both been jailed in June for contempt of court for refusing to testify against Nazario before a federal grand jury believed to be investigating the case. Both were released July 3.