San Diego, CA – U.S. Navy Special Warfare Chief Edward Gallagher, who spent nine months in prison accused of stabbing a 15-year-old ISIS fighter to death and shooting at civilians during his deployment, was found not guilty of almost all charges by a jury on Tuesday.
Gallagher was found guilty of posing for a picture with the dead body of the teenage terrorist, but the charge carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail, far less than what the decorated soldier has already served, FOX News reported.
The case against the Navy SEAL who had received two medals of Valor began after members of his own platoon leveled accusations against their chief and accused him of being a murderer who failed to distinguish between the enemy and civilians, the Washington Examiner reported.
Discussions between the platoon members in a What’sApp group called “The Sewing Circle” became the basis for the charges against Gallagher.
According to those platoon members, they were told to keep their mouths shut about what Gallagher had allegedly done or possibly lose their tridents, the symbol that identifies a sailor as an elite Navy SEAL, the Washington Examiner reported.
The case was highly controversial from the outset, and drew criticism from retired Navy SEALs and President Donald Trump, who was instrumental in having Gallagher moved from military prison to a hospital environment while he was confined.
President Trump had openly declared his plan to pardon the Navy SEAL should he have been convicted, a move that drew both praise and criticism from military officials.
But Gallagher’s case went sideways before the trial even began after prosecutors were caught having embedded email tracking software in their communications with the defense team, the Washington Examiner reported.
U.S. Navy Captain Aaron Rugh, the military judge overseeing Gallagher’s case, dismissed U.S. Navy Commander Chris Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, when it was revealed that the prosecutor had been engaging in unethical practices.
Rugh also released Gallagher from custody at that point and lowered the Navy SEAL’s possible sentence to life with the possibility of parole, the Washington Examiner reported.
However, the judge opted not to dismiss the charges against Gallagher at that time.
When the trial started on June 17, the prosecution put two members of Gallagher’s platoon on the stand who testified that they had witnessed their chief stabbing the wounded teenage ISIS fighter, the Washington Examiner reported.
Prosecutors showed the jury pictures of Gallagher posing with the dead body of the boy.
They said members of his platoon had seen him read his reenlistment oath near the body and that proved he was “proud” of what he’d done, FOX News reported.
"Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife," Gallagher texted a friend to whom he sent the picture, according to prosecutors.
But at the eleventh hour, another member of Gallagher’s platoon took the stand and told the jury that it was he, not Gallagher, who had actually killed the ISIS fighter, the Washington Examiner reported.
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, a combat medic, admitted that he’d seen Gallagher stab the fighter, but told the jury that the teen died because he had suffocated the boy to keep him from being turned over to the Iraqis, whom he said he had seen torture, rape, and kill other prisoners.
"I knew he was going to die anyway," Scott testified. "I wanted to save him from waking up to what had happened next."
Other members of Gallagher’s team told the jury that they hadn’t seen the decorated soldier stab the teen, the Washington Examiner reported.
Lead defense attorney Timothy Parlatore argued that the men who had accused Gallagher of misdeeds were just disgruntled subordinates who didn’t like their chief’s tough leadership tactics.
"This case is not about murder, it's about mutiny," Parlatore said.
Gallagher’s wife, who stood by his side through the entire debacle, told reporters at a press conference after the verdict that the matter was not finished and pointed to the way her hero husband had been pulled from his home at gunpoint, FOX News reported.
During his 19-year military career, the Navy has twice awarded Gallagher the Bronze Star with V for Valor, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and three Navy and U.S. Marine Corps achievement medals.