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Jury selection begins for Jacksonville Navy captain accused of hindering 2015 death investigation

Ex-Guantanamo Bay commander John Nettleton accused of lying during probe into Christopher Tur’s disappearance, death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The federal trial for a Jacksonville Navy captain accused of lying during the investigation into the disappearance and death of a Marine Corps veteran in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, nearly five years ago, is set to begin with jury selection on Monday.

Capt. John Nettleton – who recently retired from the Navy -- was the commanding officer for Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in 2015 when 42-year-old Christopher Tur was found dead in the water.

Nettleton’s final pre-trial hearing was held Friday afternoon at Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, where one of his defense attorneys discussed the possibility of bringing up certain elements of Tur’s background in opening statements to the jury. Judge Timothy Corrigan said he would hear arguments on the matter next week if the defense decided to go in that direction.

Accusations against John Nettleton

Investigators say the night before Tur’s body was found in the water, he and Nettleton got into a fight over an alleged affair between Nettleton and Tur's wife. An autopsy determined Tur drowned, but his manner of death was listed on the autopsy report as "undetermined."

Prosecutors say Tur's blood was found inside Nettleton's home and on his dock over the water.

Defense attorneys expressed concerns to Corrigan during a hearing last month since Nettleton is not accused of homicide. They said they were concerned prosecutors would try to infer to the jury that Nettleton had a role in Tur’s death.

Prosecutors said they were not treating it as a murder case -- as they had no evidence to prove or disprove that notion. However, they said they believe if Nettleton hadn’t concealed evidence and lied immediately after the fight, they might have answers about what happened to Tur.

Nettleton, who is collecting benefits from the government since retiring last year, was the head of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in 2015 when Tur worked at the Navy Exchange on the base.

According to a federal indictment returned in March, Nettleton was having an affair with Tur’s wife, who also worked at the NEX. When Tur confronted his commanding officer at a party at the Officer’s Club, investigators said the two got into a fight. Tur was found dead in the water a day later.

John Nettleton with one of his defense attorneys in federal court.
John Nettleton with one of his defense attorneys in federal court.

The I-TEAM has looked into this case extensively, even visiting Tur’s family in Pennsylvania. Family members said they blame Nettleton for their loved one’s death. They petitioned lawmakers and the Secretary of the Navy to investigate further and take away Nettleton’s retirement benefits, believed to worth be more than $1.8 million.

Originally, 10 federal charges were filed against Nettleton, but the judge allowed the government to drop two of them Friday. He still faces eight charges, which include obstruction of justice, concealing material facts, making false statements, and falsifying records.

When the jury selection process begins Monday, Judge Corrigan is allowing Nettleton’s attorneys to check out social media profiles for potential jurors and look at anything they have posted that can be seen by the public. However, the judge said that research must end once the jury is selected.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan during John Nettleton's final pre-trial hearing.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan during John Nettleton's final pre-trial hearing.

Once Nettleton’s trial gets underway, Corrigan said it could take up to four weeks to lay out evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The government’s attorneys said they plan on calling 17 witnesses and showcasing extensive evidence. The witnesses are coming from around the world, including someone from Singapore. Nettleton’s defense team listed 19 people who could testify.