LOS ANGELES A former U.S. Marine sergeant accused of killing four unarmed Iraqi detainees was acquitted on Thursday of all criminal charges in the case, including voluntary manslaughter.
A federal court jury deliberated for six hours before finding Jose Luis Nazario Jr., 28, not guilty of charges that he unlawfully killed or ordered his squad members to kill the four Iraqis on November 9, 2004, in the insurgent Iraqi stronghold of Fallujah.
Nazario led a 13-member squad of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in northern Fallujah in an attempt to retake the city from insurgent forces.
Two other Marines from the same squad face military courts-martial in the slayings.
They were considered key witnesses in the prosecution case but refused to testify, despite a grant of immunity, on grounds of constitutional protections against self-incrimination. The judge, however, has cited them for contempt.
The nearly three-year-old case came to light when one of the Marines facing court-martial confessed to the killings during a lie detector test he was taking for a civilian job. He was later called back into military service.
In addition to voluntary manslaughter, Nazario was acquitted of assault with a dangerous weapon and of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Nazario's trial in his hometown of Riverside, California, has been closely watched by domestic and international media as it marks the first time that a former Marine has been prosecuted by a civilian court for wartime conduct.
(Reporting by Syantani Chatterjee; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Beech)