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Ex-Gitmo commander sentenced to 2 years for death investigation cover-up

Former Navy Capt. John Nettleton admits wrongs after death of civilian Chris Tur

John Nettleton
John Nettleton (Steve Bridges)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly six years after the case began, a retired Navy captain convicted of lying and obstructing justice in the investigation into a 2015 death at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has learned his fate.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan sentenced John R. Nettleton to two years in federal prison, plus one year of supervised release and court fees. He will self-report when he’s contacted by the Bureau of Prisons.

The U.S. Department of Justice had recommended that Nettleton, 54, be sentenced to more than three years in prison on charges stemming from the 2015 death and disappearance of Christopher Tur, a civilian security manager for the Naval Exchange at Guantanamo Bay – the base Nettleton commanded.

Nettleton’s defense asked for a substantially lighter sentence, probation or home confinement, citing many letters that were submitted on Nettleton’s behalf.

In short, they said the actions brought against him before the court do not represent the person he really is.

In January, a federal jury in Jacksonville convicted Nettleton on six of the eight charges he faced. The charges included obstruction of justice, concealment of material facts, falsification of records and making false statements.

Nettleton and Tur, 42, were in a fight two nights before the Coast Guard found Tur’s body floating in the bay. It stemmed from a drunken confrontation at a party at the officer’s club, where Tur accused Nettleton, his commanding officer, of having an affair with his wife, Lara.

The fight spilled over into Nettleton’s home, federal prosecutors determined, where investigators found Tur’s blood in the living room and a bloody towel on the dock.

Nettleton was never charged directly in Tur’s death, but the government wrote in its memorandum:

“The evidence much more strongly suggests that Christopher Tur, who suffered broken ribs before his death, was involved in a much more violent altercation with the Defendant than the Defendant testified.”

An autopsy found Tur drowned. The manner of death could not be determined.

In its sentencing memo, the DOJ recommended Nettleton serve between 37 and 46 months.

“There is no question that John R. Nettleton (”Defendant") misled, concealed, and lied about facts he knew regarding the disappearance and death of Christopher Tur (“Tur”)," the memo states. “Although the Defendant was not tried for or convicted of involvement in the death of Tur, the inescapable reality is that if the Defendant did what he should have done—what his legal duty and common human decency commanded—and reported his interactions with Tur when they happened, Tur may still be alive today.”

Prosecutors argued that Nettleton’s actions wasted valuable Navy and government resources.

Tur’s family members traveled from Pennsylvania for the hearing. His mother, Ann, told the judge how horrible it was to lose him so suddenly.

“I remember running around the house in grief and shock, crying and screaming,” she said, holding back tears. “Soul-piercing grief. No goodbyes, no I love you, no hugs, no kisses.”

She went on to blame Nettleton for her son’s death, even though the retired captain’s attorneys objected.

“Remove Nettleton’s actions and we would not be here,” she said. “My baby boy would be alive. It did not have to be this way. My Christopher was nothing like the character assassinations I have to endure in court. Music to Nettleton’s ears.”

She was referring to allegations from the defense that Tur was abusive, insecure, unstable and possibly took his own life.

“Christopher was a good man. He was flawed like everyone else,” his brother, Mike, told the judge. “He made mistakes. What he (Nettleton) did was no mistake.”

Another brother, Hank Tur, told the judge the scenario would have been very different had Nettleton’s loved ones been missing. He said Nettleton would have used every available resource.

“I miss him,” he said.

Tur’s sister, Aline Byrnes, said the Navy failed to take the case seriously at first.

“Mr. Nettleton thinks he is above the law, and I hope you can show that he is not,” she said.

Sister-in-law Pam Tur described the pain her family endured by the death and the cover-up.

In asking for a lesser sentence, the defense said multiple letters were submitted on Nettleton’s behalf saying he has already suffered many consequences, including the loss of his military career, his marriage and his reputation.

One friend wrote:

"Since his arrest he has continued to be a man of honorable character who had learned from his mistakes. He is an asset to society that we need. It is this country, this nation, more than any other place, which allows imperfect people to pursue the freedoms of renewal, redemption, forgiveness and second chances.

Another letter said:

“Judge Corrigan, I must truthfully admit it is my experience that John is one of the finest individuals I have ever known. I say this in spite of his current situation and no matter what his future may hold. He is a courageous man and a kind and loyal friend.”

Five people testified on behalf of Nettleton’s character at his sentencing hearing Thursday. They included his father, Robert, an attorney, his ex-wife, Leslee, and former high-ranking military officials, including retired Army Col. John Bogdan and retired Navy Adm. Richard Butler.

They said Nettleton was a strong leader, a good father and a kind man who cared for the people he commanded. He had no criminal history.

His attorneys pointed out this was not a murder case and they wanted their client to have the chance to be a productive member of society. They said he couldn’t work, was fired from being an Uber and Lyft driver due to the pending charges, and wanted to spend time with his family.

Nettleton spoke last, telling the judge he took responsibility for his actions.

“I made mistakes. I failed, and I know that I’m accountable for my actions,” he said with a quivering voice. “I’d like to apologize to my Navy and Marine Corps friends, and I offer my sincere condolences to the Tur family. I’d like to thank my family because I know you’ve suffered. You guys have suffered because of my actions.”

“There are a lot of things of this case that are unusual,” Corrigan said when pronouncing the sentence. “This is not a murder case. This is not a homicide case.”

He said he had to act based on the charges Nettleton was convicted of, despite the overtones of more serious charges. He did find reason for enhanced penalties because Nettleton’s actions wasted government resources and because Nettleton was a powerful military leader who “abused the public trust.”

“Nothing that I do today will bring Christopher Tur back or heal the Tur or Nettleton families,” he said. “I’m prepared for the possibility, even the likelihood, that no one will leave here today satisfied with the court’s decision.”

“I’ve heard you and I can empathize with the grief and even the bitterness,” Corrigan said to the Tur family, when pointing out he could only sentence Nettleton based on the charges a jury convicted him of.

“Earlier disclosure might have provided a clearer understanding of his (Tur’s) death,” Corrigan said. “While Captain Nettleton is not convicted of the death of Mr. Tur, the significance of the obstruction is enhanced because of the fact that Christopher Tur died. Even following Tur’s death, Captain Nettleton continued his obstruction, which the jury found to be criminal. ... He had plenty of opportunities to change course but chose not to.

“All of these stellar attributes (about Nettleton) that I heard today, all of those things seemed to have deserted him at this critical time,” he went on to say. “I have no idea why that was so, but it was.”

Nettleton has the right to appeal within 14 days of the judgment. Prosecutors can also appeal.

Nettleton’s attorney asked for self-surrender after Christmas. The judge said he will commit Nettleton to stay under the same conditions until contacted by the Bureau of Prisons.

Tur’s family members said they are considering civil action against Nettleton in Tur’s death.


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