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Military Jury Acquits Navy SEAL Of Murder In War Crimes Trial


The jury in the war crimes trial of a Navy SEAL reached a verdict yesterday. Edward Gallagher was found not guilty on all the most serious charges surrounding the death of a captive ISIS fighter, as well as the attempted murder of Iraqi civilians. Steve Walsh from member station KPBS has been covering the trial and joins us now.

Steve, can you just start off by explaining what exactly the charges were against Gallagher?

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Sure, Rachel. So he faced seven counts, including a murder count, for stabbing a wounded detainee, and then attempted murder counts for shooting at two civilians with his sniper rifle, as well as firing into a crowd of civilians while he was in Mosul in 2017, fighting ISIS. This was, by the way, Gallagher's eighth deployment.

MARTIN: The jury did find Gallagher guilty on this charge of posing with the corpse of the ISIS fighter. Can you explain this?

WALSH: Right, this is the least serious charge - posing with the body of a dead detainee on the battlefield. He can receive up to four months. And this is the only charge that cannot be accompanied by a dishonorable discharge.

MARTIN: There was a dramatic moment, I understand, when another Navy SEAL took the witness stand. What can you tell us?

WALSH: Yeah, there have been so many twists and turns in this case. Last week, medic Corey Scott - and this was a prosecution witness who was - he was working on the body of this detainee. And he said that he closed off the breathing tube after Gallagher left and suffocated the prisoner. He said it was a mercy killing. So, in fact, it wasn't Gallagher at all. It was him. Now, Scott still said he saw Gallagher stab the prisoner. He just said it wasn't life-threatening. And another SEAL also said he stabbed him, for that matter.

MARTIN: Up until that point, what had been Gallagher's defense?

WALSH: So there's been, obviously, a lot of confusion among SEALs. A Marine raider who was with the unit said that he saw the neck and that there was no stab wounds on it after the prisoner had died. So what the defense has been saying - that this was an investigation that had run amuck. There was Joe Warpinski, the lead Naval investigator. He was very junior. He had only been at NCIS about two-and-a-half years when he was given control of this war crimes case, which would ultimately attract all of this national attention.

Now, the prosecutors had this text of Gallagher standing over the body with the phrase, good story; got him with my hunting knife. But the defense came back and said this was just a dark joke, something that SEALs would do amongst themselves.

MARTIN: What kind of punishment might he face?

WALSH: So, again, he can face up to four months on this one count that he is accused of, of posing with the dead detainee. There is a wrinkle in this. If he's convicted of any time and has to serve any time in the brig - that he can be cut in rank, which would affect his pay since Gallagher is right at the end of his 20-year career.

MARTIN: And he, I understand, will be sentenced later today.

Steve Walsh, reporter with KPBS covering this trial - thank you so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBORAN TRIO'S "DUENDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Walsh