Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 13:56 UK

US marine avoids murder charges

US marines in Iraq (file image)
In 2004, heaving fighting erupted in the Iraqi city of Falluja

Murder charges have been dropped against a US marine who admitted to a court-martial that he shot dead an unarmed Iraqi in Falluja in 2004.

Sgt Jermaine Nelson pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of dereliction of duty and faces a one-year sentence.

He is the last of three marines to face a military trial over the deaths of unarmed Iraqi detainees during fierce fighting in Falluja.

The other two men have already been acquitted.

Sgt Nelson, 28, was deployed in Operation Phantom Fury, a US assault on Falluja five years ago.

When his squad entered a house, four Iraqi men surrendered but were then shot dead.

He admitted that he killed one of the detainees, saying he acted on the orders of his squad leader.

Under a pre-trial agreement, the US government dropped the murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of dereliction of duty.

Sgt Nelson, who could have faced life in prison, will be sentenced to a maximum of one year.

His lawyer said the plea agreement means he would not serve any time behind bars.

A former marine sergeant, Jose Luis Nazario, was cleared of the killings in August last year.

The prosecution's case fell apart when Sgt Nelson and another marine, Ryan Weemer, refused to testify. They were found in contempt of court.

Sgt Weemer was cleared in April.

Investigation into dozens of civilian shootings in Iraq have raised questions over military conduct and prompted accusations of cover-ups, says the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles.

A spokesman for the marines told the BBC that all the proceedings had been open and transparent.

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