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Family of deceased Marine vet believes former base commander is responsible for death

Then-commanding officer of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Capt. John R. Nettleton, speaks during a ceremony on June, 3, 2014. Nettleton was arrested Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2018, on charges that he interfered with the investigation into the death of a civilian with whom he fought after an argument over whether the officer had had an affair with the man's wife.

JACOB GOFF/U.S. NAVY

By EILEEN KELLEY | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: January 12, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Mike Tur hadn't even left the island to accompany his brother's body back to Philadelphia when words alleging his sister-in-law's infidelity swirled through the Guantanamo Navy base in Cuba.

Tur had met the man whose name he had heard murmured at his brother's memorial service. It was John Nettleton. He went by "J.R." and he was the commander over U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

Christopher Tur, a 42-year-old Marine veteran, was working as a civilian contractor at Guantanamo Bay when he died. His wife, Lara Tur, also worked there.

Mike Tur said Nettleton expressed his condolences at the memorial service but didn't stick around for the luncheon afterward.

Christopher Tur's body was pulled from the bay on Jan. 11, 2015. He was drinking, he was unhappy, he was possibly suicidal, his brother repeated from what he said his sister-in-law told the family. Mike Tur always pegged his brother as a happy-go-lucky and doting family man.

When Christopher Tur's body came back to the United States, the newly widowed Lara Tur and her daughters moved in with Mike Tur and his family as they prepared for the funeral.

They sat at a table playing cards one day before the funeral when all of a sudden everyone's phones started blowing up with messages and phone calls telling them Nettleton's superior relieved him of his command, saying she had lost confidence in his abilities during Tur's death investigation.

But Mike Tur said he heard more than the military's public comments. He said he and others heard about an affair and a cover-up.

"She started to freak out," Mike Tur said of his sister-in-law.

Her daughters wanted answers and he did, too.

Was she having an affair?

She didn't deny it, Tur said in a one of several phone calls with the Times-Union this week.

"She had to confess," he said. "There was just no way around it."

Lara Tur did not attend her husband's funeral and her name was not listed in the obituary Mike Tur wrote. The couple celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary the month before he died.

Tur said his sister-in-law told him that when everything settled she and Nettleton would finally be able to be together.

Efforts to reach Lara Tur, who changed her name back to Lara Sabanosh, were unsuccessful.

Nettleton, who was reassigned to Jacksonville in early 2015 after being ousted from his Guantanamo command, was arrested Wednesday on allegations he interfered with the investigation of Tur's death.

At an arraignment on Wednesday, Nettleton, who is still a captain in the Navy here, pleaded not guilty and asked for a trial. A May trial date has been set.

The 10-count indictment does not include a homicide charge, something Mike Tur said he wanted.

The government accused Nettleton, 53, of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing facts including that he and Tur fought inside Nettleton's home on Jan. 9, 2015.

According to the indictment, earlier that evening Tur saw his wife and Nettleton interacting during an event at the Officers Club. The indictment said Tur confronted them and asked if they were having an affair. The indictment said all three had been drinking.

Nettleton left, according to the indictment. Not long after, Tur showed up his house. They fought in the kitchen.

The indictment said Tur called someone and told them he "just knocked the skipper out."

Nettleton's daughter heard the fight and started sending text messages, according to the indictment.

"Um well my dad's really drunk and some other dude is here and they are like getting in a fight downstairs and I am hiding," his daughter texted. She continued to send text messages.

The following morning the person Tur apparently called and another person showed up at Nettleton's house looking for Tur, the indictment said.

Nettleton, the indictment said, declined to allow his property to be checked when asked by his visitors, who were not named in the indictment.

The indictment said at 2:30 p.m. Nettleton spoke to a command duty officer and ordered a search for Tur.

Nettleton misled the command duty officer by concealing the altercation at the bar, the fight in his home that left Tur injured and did not reveal that the last place Tur was seen by anyone was in Nettleton's residence, not the bar where the captain said Tur was last seen.

"As a result of Nettleton's concealment of all relevant facts ... the search for Tur started at the Bayview [the Officers Club bar] and focused on the areas north, south and east of facility, but not west toward Nettleton's home where Tur was seen by Nettleton," the indictment states.

The indictment said that when someone sought Nettleton's permission to request the U.S. Coast Guard use a helicopter to aid in the search, he refused to give permission.

The indictment lists two counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of falsification of documents and four counts of making false statements against Nettelton, 53. Individually, the counts carry a maximum penalty of five to 20 years in prison.

When Tur's body was found, a captain advised Nettleton to provide any information that he had gathered to Naval Criminal Investigative Services because his death made the investigation a potential criminal matter. Again, he was accused of concealing information.

According to the indictment, Tur drowned. His ribs were broken before he died. He also had a laceration on his face. The indictment said Tur's blood was found inside Nettleton's home as well as on a paper towel found on Nettleton's property.

"Do I think Nettleton is responsible for his death? Yes. That is my opinion," Mike Tur said. "He suffered. He had horrible damage to his ribs. He was injured and that is a statement of fact. If you are injured, how do you swim?"

On Wednesday -- the four-year anniversary of the last known time that Christopher Tur was known to be alive -- and the day Nettleton was arrested, his sister, Aline Byrnes, sent letters to Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer as well as Pennsylvania Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey.

Byrnes called for Nettleton's ouster from the Navy before he is able to retire and collect a military pension.

Both Byrnes and Mike Tur told the Times-Union that Nettleton is set to retire in March. In the letters, Byrnes explained about Nettleton's indictment.

"Anything less than John Nettleton being immediately removed is a complete disservice to the United States Navy and every United States tax-paying citizen," she wrote.

Even though Christopher Tur worked as a civilian, Nettleton still had an obligation over his safety and well-being. Brynes thinks Nettleton should have refused to let her brother into his home.

"My brother is not walking and talking because of this man's inactions," Byrnes said. "... If he would have just said, 'I'm not letting you in and I'm calling the police,' my brother would still be alive. He did not do what he was sworn to do. He did not protect my brother and that is not right."

Byrnes ended her letter to the senators and secretary of the Navy this way: "I'm hopeful that you will do the right thing and send a strong message to all of your senior officers that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and will be punished with the highest administrative action allowed to preserve the integrity of the United States Navy and to honor the memory of my brother. It would further help our broken-hearted family find some solace in that justice will be served and that you have Christopher and his daughters' best interests at heart."

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