A federal jury in Jacksonville, Florida, on Friday convicted the former commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on charges that he obstructed justice and made false statements in the wake of a civilian contractor’s death at the base.
A sentencing date has not been set for Capt. John Nettleton, 54, of St. Johns, Florida.
According to a Department of Justice news release, jurors also found Nettleton guilty on charges that he concealed information from Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents and falsified records while authorities probed the 2015 death of Christopher M. Tur, the loss prevention safety manager at the base’s Naval Exchange.
“By deliberately misleading NCIS during the investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Tur, Capt. Nettleton delayed justice and wasted valuable Department of the Navy resources,” said Special Agent in Charge Matthew Lascell of the NCIS Southeast Field Office in a prepared statement.
“NCIS is dedicated to holding those who unlawfully impede investigations accountable for their actions.”
Tur died hours after confronting Nettleton following a booze-fueled party at the Bayview restaurant, in the basement of the GTMO Officer’s Club on Jan. 9, 2015.
Tur, 42, accused the captain of having an affair with his wife, who was director of the Fleet and Family Support Center, according to the indictment.
Tur and Nettleton fought later that night at Nettleton’s home, down the street from the Bayview. Nettleton’s daughter, who was the only family member at home at the time, overheard and witnessed part of the scuffle, prosecutors said.
Later, after things quieted, Nettleton — shirtless — went upstairs and spoke briefly with her.
Tur was reported missing the next day. But as the search for him expanded, Nettleton withheld information about the altercation and refused to allow a Coast Guard helicopter to assist, jurors were told.
Tur was found floating in the island’s waters by a Coast Guard vessel during the late morning on Jan. 11, 2015.
An autopsy showed Tur had drowned “but he also had ribs that were fractured with associated soft tissue damage, and that these rib injuries occurred before he died,” prosecutors argued.
Tur’s autopsy also cited a cut to his head.
A paper towel with blood on it that matched Tur’s DNA was found near the pier in Nettleton’s backyard around the same time and a subsequent search of the captain’s house also turned up bloodstains that matched Tur’s DNA.
Amid the NCIS investigation, Nettleton’s superiors removed him from command and assigned him to Navy Region Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida.
A prior service Marine infantryman who was commissioned as a helicopter pilot in 1989, Nettleton was never charged with Tur’s death.
In a statement provided to Navy Times after the jury’s verdict, Tur’s sister, Aline Byrnes, said that family members remain grateful to those who investigated and adjudicated the case, but added they will continue to seek more answers about what happened in Cuba.
“This trial had made it clear that officials failed to keep good order and discipline that could have saved Christopher’s life,” she wrote. “Justice comes in many forms, one is the light of day.”
Nettleton retired from the Navy as a captain on March 1, 2019 after 30 years in uniform, his defense attorney, Colby Vokey, said Friday.
“We’re just disappointed with the result," Vokey told Navy Times by phone. "It was a very complex case with a lot of different pieces.
"At the same time, we’re glad that it’s finally over. It’s been hanging over Capt. Nettleton’s head for about five years.”
Courtney Mabeus is a senior writer at Navy Times. Mabeus previously covered the military for The Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier.