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Marine reservist accused of attacking Greek priest

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A Marine reservist accused of attacking a Greek Orthodox priest with a tire iron after apparently calling him a terrorist was actually defending himself after being sexually attacked by the cleric, his defense attorney said Tuesday.

Jeff Brown said Lance Cpl. Jasen Bruce, 28, had been followed into the parking garage of his Tampa apartment building about 6:30 p.m. Monday by the Rev. Alexios Marakis, who then made sexual comments and grabbed the reservist’s genitals. Brown denounced the Tampa Police Department’s account of the incident as “one-sided” and “tainted.”

“We are confident that the surveillance videos, the long 911 call, the eyewitnesses will all conclusively show that Lance Cpl. Bruce was attacked and was the victim in this case,” Brown said.

But the Tampa Police report offered a far different account, saying Marakis was lost when he followed Bruce into the garage and asked for help, then was struck with the tire iron and chased several blocks. When officers arrived, Bruce called Marakis a terrorist and said the priest had shouted “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great.”

Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Bruce made no mention of a sexual attack in his 911 call, referencing it later when officers arrived, after offering other excuses for the bloodied man. “One was that he tried to rob him. The other was that he was an Arab terrorist and shouted “Allahu akbar” and he explained that ‘That’s what they say before they blow you up.’ And then he said that he grabbed his genitals and wanted to have sex with him. He gave various accounts of what happened,” she said.

Bruce was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon but released from jail on bond.

Marakis was treated at an area hospital and released.

Marakis, 29, is visiting from Crete, Greece, and had attended a blessing just before the incident, according to police. Reached at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs on Monday, he did not appear to understand inquiries about the attack.

“I don’t speak English. I don’t speak English,” he repeated.

Messages left for the spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America were not immediately returned.

In a four-minute statement to the press, during which Bruce stood silent, Brown referred to Marakis as a “bearded attacker” six times and used his client’s military rank 17 times, denying the very basis of the police allegations.

Brown said Marakis made crude sexual comments in English but also spoke a language his client didn’t understand. He rejected a police assessment of Bruce as uncooperative and portrayed the officer handling the case as a “Marine basher” who should be the subject of an internal affairs investigation. Bruce nodded when reporters asked if Marakis made sexual comments and shook his head when asked if he had called the priest a terrorist.

Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa Human Rights Council, called on police to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime. He said he had spoken to Marakis, who told him he was shocked by Bruce’s allegations, which he said were untrue.

“I did not even touch him,” Bedier quoted Marakis as saying in broken English.

Bedier said he worried the incident was backlash from the shootings last week at Fort Hood, where Maj. Nidal Hasan is suspected in a rampage that left 13 people dead 29 others wounded.

Marakis has a long beard and at the time of the incident had been wearing a black clerical robe, both customary of Greek Orthodox priests.

“He perceived the guy to be Arab or a Muslim terrorist and he said that to police, and he attacked him,” Bedier said. “Before he could even say anything, the guy grabbed the iron rod and hit him twice on the right and twice on the left.”

Marakis fell while running away, Bedier said the priest told him, and when the Marine caught up with him, he hit him again.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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