A former soldier accused of murdering his wife can’t get a fair trial because the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office gave confidential police records to the Army as part of a “scheme” to help the military discharge him, a defense attorney alleged in court Monday.
That argument failed to persuade Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin to halt the prosecution of the former Spc. Skylar Nemetz, but it opened a window on how Pierce County and Joint Base Lewis-McChord decide how to hold soldiers accountable for offenses committed in civilian communities.
Nemetz’s attorney, Michael Stewart, alleged that the soldier’s discharge has deprived him of an income since he shot Danielle Nemetz, 19, in their Lakewood apartment in October 2014. It also might bias jurors against Nemetz, Stewart said.
He pointed to emails between prosecutors and Army attorneys in which the two sides discussed meetings about the case.
Stewart obtained an evidence packet the Army used to discharge Nemetz last year that included documents from the Lakewood police investigation into Nemetz.
He interpreted that as a sign that the military and prosecutors had collaborated to punish the former soldier.
“It is beyond the scope of the prosecution to go after somebody’s job,” Stewart said.
Nevin declined to postpone the upcoming trial or remove one of its prosecutors from the case.
A retired Army judge, he characterized the information exchange as one of the “anomalies” that can happen in communities near large military bases where civilian and military authorities make decisions about how to prosecute troops.
“I don’t find there was any misconduct here,” Nevin said.
Nemetz, 21, shot his wife in the back of the head with an AR-15 rifle as she sat at a computer in the couple’s apartment. He pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, contending he did not know the weapon was loaded and that the shooting was an accident.
Danielle Nemetz’s death was the second killing in Lakewood over a 12-month period by a soldier from JBLM’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Both defendants, Nemetz and former Pfc. Jeremiah Hill, served in the same infantry battalion. Both were fairly new to the Army, although Nemetz had more time in uniform.
The emails Stewart cited reference meetings between civilian and military prosecutors regarding which agency would prosecute those cases and two others.
The Army eventually took control of Hill’s case. In April, an Army court-martial panel convicted him of murder without premeditation and sentenced him to 45 years in jail for the October 2013 slaying of Spc. Tevin Geike.
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office retained jurisdiction over Nemetz. At some point, someone shared information with the Army about the case.
Several of the emails Stewart cited come from the chief Army attorney assigned to Nemetz and Hill’s brigade commander. He requested primary investigative records to speed Nemetz’s discharge.
“We cannot move forth until we have enough evidence to process the (discharge) packet,” the Army attorney wrote in November 2014. “So it will be awesome to get our hands on those statements from the investigators to proceed.”
It was not clear who provided the records to the military.
Stewart blamed deputy prosecutor Gregory Greer, who denied the allegation in court.
“This is possibly the most maniacal argument I’ve ever heard,” Greer said.
He said it was possible someone else in the prosecutor’s office sent the records to the Army because “we share information with law enforcement all day long.”
Pierce County deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer told Nevin he had declined to give evidence to the Army.
He said he had asked the Army to keep him informed about Nemetz’s discharge because the former soldier initially was released from jail on the condition that the Army secure him at JBLM. Kicking him out of the Army would negate that condition.
Stewart has several other motions pending before Nevin. The trial is expected to begin late this week or early next week.
Nemetz was joined in court by his mother. He and his wife were from the same small community in Humboldt County, California.