Flanked by a defense team that took the case pro-bono, former Marines sergeant and ex-Riverside police officer Jose Nazario arrived Thursday morning for Day 1 of his trial.
Prosecutors say Nazario executed Iraqi detainees in Fallujah, men who prosecutors say were unarmed, submissive and docile. But the defense says there's not a shred of evidence, only the word of the defendant's squad mates, one of whom came forward years after the alleged killing and told authorities about what allegedly happened.
"I think they're chasing after ghosts," said defense attorney Kevin McDermott. "As we've indicated, there isn't any physical evidence to confirm that there was a death at all. No fingerprint, no DNA, no body scrapings, no nothing."
Thursday the prosecution ran down what it called "Marine Corps 101." Because this is a civilian trial and only a few of the jurors have any military experience, most of the witnesses on the stand were there to talk to the jury about training and rules of engagement, which the prosecution says do not allow for the killing of a detainee who is trying to surrender.
The defense says at the time, rules of engagement were almost thrown out the window, because Day 1 of the Battle of Fallujah was an all-out firefight. And the defense says, split-second decisions made then should not be second-guessed four years down the road.
"This really boils down to young men in the trenches having to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, whether or not they can identify if somebody is the bad guy or the good guy. And we think under the circumstances, Fallujah was a situation where there were very few good guys," said McDermott.
The squad mate who came forward, Sgt. Ryan Weemer, will face murder charges himself. That will happen next weekend at Camp Pendleton because he is still in the military. Weemer will be in Riverside Friday. He has been asked to come here and testify in this trial. The government has granted him immunity, but some say that's no guarantee. If he doesn't testify, the judge could order him back to jail.