The Spoils of War

SAN DIEGO–A Marine sergeant accused of bringing an AK-47 assault rifle home from Iraq as a war trophy is headed to federal court to face charges he failed to properly register the weapon.

    Jury selection was set to begin Monday in the trial of Sgt. Leonardo San Juan of El Paso, Texas, who is charged with one felony count of possession of an unregistered firearm.

    The charges stem from accusations that San Juan, 31, brought the AK-47 back with him more than two years ago from Iraq, according to a grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

    “If you believe the allegation, all it is is a war trophy” San Juan’s attorney, Joseph Low told the media. “It’s not like he went out and committed a crime, shot it or had ammo in it.”

    Debra Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined comment on the case.

    San Juan has pleaded innocent to the charge. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison and a discharge from the Marine Corps for having a felony conviction.

    War trophies, per se, are not illegal for troops to bring home. But they must be approved by U.S. Central Command, which oversees troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, before they are brought into the United States.

    In recent years, a handful of troops have been prosecuted for possessing war trophies, such as antiques and weapons.

    Because the rifle is a fully functional automatic weapon, prosecutors had to apply for a special waiver to bring the weapon to court to use as an exhibit in the case, according to court records.

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