JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The former commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who is accused of a coverup after the death of an employee on base took the stand Tuesday morning to testify in his own defense. The move was not completely unexpected, but as of Monday, it was unclear if John Nettleton would share his version of the events that happened during an alcohol-fueled night in January 2015.
Nettleton was in charge of the naval base in 2015 when Christopher Tur, a civilian employee at the Naval Exchange there, was found dead in the bay. Investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) said Nettleton and Tur got in a fight over an affair with Tur’s wife the night before.
On Tuesday, Nettleton admitted on the stand that he slept with Tur’s wife, Lara Sabinosh Tur, one time at a hotel at NAS Jax in 2014 and gave his account of a fight with Tur that happened before he was reported missing.
Nettleton testified that following a night of drinking at a nearby bar, he returned to his home and talked to his daughter. The next thing he remembered, he said, was Tur standing over him and saying “Wake up Marine.” Nettleton assumed he was knocked out, he testified, but said he didn’t remember Tur coming into the house.
Nettleton said when he came to, a drunk Tur confronted him about sleeping with his wife and eventually the two got into a fight. Nettleton said he punched Tur in the nose and Tur started bleeding.
Nettleton said when things calmed down, he helped Tur clean himself up then went upstairs to comfort his daughter. When he came back down, Tur was gone, Nettleton said.
It’s unclear what happened to Tur next. Following a base-wide search, Tur was found floating in the bay nearly two days later.
Defense lawyers asked Nettleton why he didn’t call security following the fight.
“If I would have called security on Chris, it would have been one of those things where he would have been fired,” Nettleton testified.
Dr. Christopher Gordon, a forensic pathologist with the military who conducted an autopsy on Tur in Guantanamo Bay after his body was found floating in the water, testified Monday that he found a bruise on Tur’s forehead, a small cut under his eyebrow, a bruise on his chest and four broken ribs. Toxicology results determined Tur’s blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal driving limit at 0.26. Lab results also found high levels of the anti-depressant Prozac in his blood, a level that Dr. Gordon said could be fatal and could have contributed to drowning when paired with alcohol.
Dr. Gordon said he initially thought Tur’s death could have been a suicide but said there’s is no way he could certify that because there were no known witnesses. His death remains unclassified.
Nettleton has not been charged in connection with Tur’s death.
After a lunch break Tuesday afternoon, Nettleton testified about the hours that followed the fight.
Nettleton testified that as the search unfolded, he felt the fight with Tur wasn’t relevant at the moment because they were in full search mode.
The retired Navy captain was then asked by defense lawyers if he had any intention to obstruct the investigation into the death of Tur, he said no.
But prosecutors keyed in on a few instances where Nettleton had the chance to help the search for Tur but didn’t. After Tur’s body was found, Nettleton said he told two superiors, Rear admiral Christopher Gray and Admiral Mary Jackson, about an argument outside a bar the night before Tur went missing but did not tell either of them that Tur attacked him or that he punched Tur in the nose.
“The way he described the situation was that there had been no personal involvement in any way,” Gray testified earlier in the trial. “(It) seemed to indicate he was getting the info from other people and that he had no prior knowledge.”
Admiral Gray said had he known of the fight between Nettleton and Tur the night before, the response to the situation would have been very different and he would have launched a criminal investigation right away.
After a bloody rag was found by Nettleton’s dock, which later tested positive for Tur’s DNA, Nettleton said he was 99% sure it was the rag he said he gave to Tur the night before but he didn’t say anything to investigators. Nettleton said he didn’t have a good explanation as to why.
“My tank was empty,” he testified.
During cross-examination, prosecutors also questioned why Nettleton never called Tur’s wife after the fight.
“I could have done a better job that night," Nettleton said.
Nettleton was also asked by prosecutors why he threw away a bloody shirt and cleaned the blood off the floor of his home after he learned Tur was missing.
“I promise you I never thought it would be evidence,” he responded.
The defense is expected to rest on Wednesday following Nettleton’s testimony. Closing arguments would then follow before the jury deliberates the eight counts against Nettleton. The trial is expected to wrap up this week.