A military jury in San Diego has acquitted Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of all but one count of war crimes in a case that revolved around the killing of a 17-year-old ISIS prisoner who had been wounded and died in U.S. custody.
The jury convicted Gallagher of posing with the body of the dead prisoner.
The jury began deliberating on Monday, nearly two weeks after another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, shocked the courtroom by claiming that he, not Gallagher, killed the captive.
Scott had been granted immunity from criminal charges as a lead prosecution witness in the case against Gallagher, who was accused of stabbing the ISIS prisoner in the neck with a knife. In court, Scott said that he blocked a tube that was helping the wounded prisoner breathe and that he killed the youth as an act of mercy.
Prosecutors said Scott’s narrative in court was wildly different from what he said in interviews, and they accused him of trying to protect his former superior from a long prison term. But Gallagher’s defense attorney said that the junior members of his SEAL team resented him and plotted against him, as KPBS reporter Steve Walsh told NPR on Monday.
“Gallagher was jubilant following Scott’s testimony, celebrating with his family outside the courtroom,” as NPR reported. “Prosecutors were visibly upset by the turn of events.”
The ISIS prisoner died in Syria in May 2017. Gallagher was also accused of shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq in 2017, including a school-age girl.
Gallagher’s wife, Andrea, has been a vocal supporter of her husband, defending him in national media outlets and maintaining a Facebook page. In an update on Tuesday, she urged, “Please pray for a Not Guilty verdict and the TRUTH to finally set us Free as the jury deliberates again today so this nightmare can end.”
The trial has brought several surprising turnabouts. In late May, the judge in the case ordered Gallagher released from official custody, citing interference by prosecutors who tried to track defense lawyers’ emails.
Defense attorneys had sought to have the case dismissed after prosecutors were found to have tracked communications in an attempt to clamp down on leaks to the news media. Within days of that decision, the judge removed the lead prosecutor, Navy Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, who admitted to sending a digital tracking device to defense attorneys and a journalist covering the case.
The military jury also had the authority to downgrade some of the charges against Gallagher — for example, it could have reduced a murder charge to attempted murder or aggravated assault, as Walsh reported.
The case also drew the attention of President Trump, who tweeted in support of Gallagher after Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Matt Gaetz of Florida sent Trump a letter on his behalf.
Pushing for Gallagher to be released from custody, Trump said, “In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court.”
The president’s tweet went out on March 30. As KPBS’s Walsh reported, the message seemed to help Gallagher get moved from the brig to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. But he remained in custody until late May.
In their closing arguments, lawyers on both sides of the case told the jury that witnesses had lied in court, The Associated Press reported. Prosecutors also urged the jury to consider texts that Gallagher sent about the dead prisoner, along with a photo of the corpse. In one message, he said it was a “great story” and that he “got him with my hunting knife.”
Witnesses also said that Gallagher, who was then serving in his eighth deployment, recited his reenlistment oath near the body.