Ex-Guantanamo chief convicted of covering up fight over alleged affair days before man's death
By MARISA IATI | The Washington Post | Published: January 17, 2020
A former commander of the U.S. Navy's outpost in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was convicted Friday of covering up that he fought with a civilian over an alleged extramarital affair two days before the man was found dead.
A federal jury in Jacksonville, Florida, found John Nettleton, 54, guilty of obstructing justice, concealing information, falsifying records and making false statements in connection with the death of Christopher Tur, who worked at Guantanamo's Navy-operated general store.
Nettleton's sentencing date has not been set, the Justice Department said.
"Capt. Nettleton dishonored his oath and impeded the investigation into a civilian's tragic death, preventing much needed closure for the family and friends of the deceased," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement.
The Navy removed Nettleton from his post a few days after Tur's death in 2015 "due to loss of confidence in Nettleton's ability to command." Nettleton, who had served as the base's commanding officer since 2012, was reassigned to Jacksonville.
His attorneys did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Tur's sister, Aline Byrnes, said after the verdict was declared that the trial had created more questions for her family, First Coast News reported.
"While this trial has come to an end, this is far from over," Byrnes told the newspaper. "We will not stop . . . until we know what happened to Christopher."
On Jan. 9, 2015, Tur confronted Nettleton outside a party at the Guantánamo officer's club and alleged that he and Tur's wife had an affair, according to Nettleton's indictment. The pair had been standing near each other during the gathering, in view of other guests. Tur, his wife and Nettleton had been drinking.
Tur, 42, also went to Nettleton's home that night, the indictment says. He called another civilian resident of the base and said that he had "just knocked the Skipper out." In the background, Nettleton said that Tur had injured him.
Nettleton's teenage daughter came downstairs to see her father lying on the ground and Tur standing near him while trying to use a cellphone, according to the indictment. She sent a text message to a friend: "Um well my dad's really drunk and some other dude is here and they're like getting into a fight downstairs and I'm hiding."
The next day, two Guantánamo residents asked Nettleton if he knew where Tur was. He acknowledged when pressed that Tur had shown up at his house, but he said that he sent Tur away. Nettleton declined the residents' request to look in his backyard.
Nettleton did not tell anyone about Tur's accusation of an affair or about the altercation at his home, according to the indictment. A U.S. Coast Guard boat found Tur's body in the waters of Guantánamo Bay on Jan. 11, 2015.
Investigators later found a paper towel with Tur's blood on it near the base of a pier in Nettleton's backyard. A medical examiner determined that Tur had cut his head and fractured some of his ribs before he drowned.
Nettleton continued to conceal his interactions with Tur while authorities probed Tur's death. He and Tur's wife agreed not to tell investigators that they had an affair in 2014, the indictment says.
A federal grand jury indicted Nettleton in January 2019. Byrnes, Tur's sister, then wrote to her senators and to Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer to request that Nettleton be expelled from the Navy, the Florida Times-Union reported.
"My brother is not walking and talking because of this man's inactions," Byrnes told the newspaper. " . . . 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."
Nettleton, who was not charged with Tur's death, later retired.