Former Gitmo commander hit with wrongful death lawsuit while in prison

He began a two year prison sentence in federal prison in South Carolina earlier this month.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The family of a civilian contractor who died on Guantanamo Bay has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a former commander of the Naval base.

Christopher Tur’s siblings and mother filed the complaint in Duval County court against retired Captain John R. Nettleton, as well as Tur’s widow, Lara Tur Sabanosh, and the base’s public affairs officer, Kelly Wifel.

“There hasn’t been full accountability in this case. And so that’s our real goal,” Tur’s brother, Mike, told News4Jax. “The full light of day and real justice in all of this has not yet been served.”

Tur was found dead in the waters of Guantanamo Bay, an American-run Naval base on the tip of Cuba, in January 2015. The cause of death was ruled a drowning, but the medical examiner noted several injuries, including broken bones.

Nettleton was commander of the base at the time. In January 2020, he was convicted on federal charges including obstruction of justice and making false statements related to Tur’s death. He began a two year prison sentence in federal prison in South Carolina earlier this month.

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He was not criminally charged or tried for anything related to Tur’s death.

The civil lawsuit makes note of that, saying that federal prosecutors apparently felt it would be difficult to convict Nettleton for murder given the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard and the evidence that they had, so they instead brought other charges.

The civil lawsuit notes that the burden for a civil wrongful death claim is instead a “preponderance of the evidence,” so they only have to prove Nettleton’s culpability “is more likely than not.”

Against Nettleton, the civil lawsuit claims include wrongful death, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to render aid and tortious interference with a dead body.

Sabanosh, who was Christopher Tur’s wife at the time, is also named. Nettleton admitted to having an affair with her while she was married to Tur, which prompted a fight between Nettleton and Tur the night he disappeared.

Kelly Wirfel was a public affairs officer at the base and a friend of Sabanosh. The Tur family brings claims against the two of them of intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as third-party spoliation, for what attorneys say is their role in helping Nettleton destroy evidence, hide the adultery and otherwise cover up Nettleton’s role in Tur’s death.

In Nettleton’s criminal trial, Sabanosh and Wifel testified but denied any wrongdoing. They have not responded to interview requests from News4Jax.

Francis Malofiy, the attorney for the Tur family, said he wanted to have the opportunity to depose the three defendants in the lawsuit.

“What we’re seeking is the truth. And what we’re seeking is being able to sit Captain Nettleton down for a deposition where we will be able to ask him that truth,” Malofiy said. “We believe that if he does invoke his Fifth (Amendment rights) in this civil trial, then we will win on the wrongful death and the other causes of action we have against him.”

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Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.