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Lawyers Prepare Closing Arguments in Camp Lejeune Court-Martial

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CAMP LEJEUNE — A court-martial is very different than a civilian trial. The military has its own justice, its own traditions and its way of doing things. But in the case of aMarinepilot, it is a familiar story. A jury of his peers will render the verdict.

The judge, Lt. Col. Robert Nunley, sent the military jury home early Tuesday so that he and the lawyers could set the ground rules for Wednesday's jury instructions.

Testimony is over and the jury should have the case Wednesday. The case ended with some serious charges from a defense expert.

Friends and family surrounded Capt. Richard Ashby, 31, with support as testimony wrapped up.

A defense expert, the last person to testify, says it is the U.S. government that bailed out by not supporting Ashby in the deadly gondola accident that killed 20 people.

"I blame that squarely on the service of the U.S. government. I think it's time for the government to make amends with the families. They certainly deserve the compensation they're seeking. They deserve an apology from the U.S. government," said defense expert Jeff Edwards.

Edwards is a former Marine aviator and spent 18 years as a military crash investigator. He says government cut backs forced a cut back in low altitude training atAviano Air Base.

He says the effort to save defense dollars led to the 20 deaths.

"They sent Capt. Ashby out to do a mission. He did it. There was a failure at many levels. The government has got to step up to the plate and own up to its responsibilities," said Edwards.

Some of the victims' families who traveled here from across Europe plan to be here every day. The military is planning for the end of the court martial.

"They will call the members back in. The government and defense will make final closing arguments to the members. The judge will instruct them on the law, and they will go into deliberations," said Maj. Scott Jack, a Camp Lejeune spokesman.

Starting early Wednesday morning, each side will get two hours for a closing argument. Then come the jury instructions which the judge says will take about an hour.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
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