A decorated Navy SEAL who faced sentencing for a single charge of posing with a 17-year-old militant's corpse after being acquitted on all other charges will walk free on time served, a military jury ruled Wednesday.
Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher's rank, though, will be reduced to Petty Officer First Class (E-6) and his pay will be docked. He must also pay a two-month fine of $2,697.
As Gallagher left the courtroom, he did not appear pleased and did not address the media as he had in the past. When asked how he felt about the outcome he responded with a blunt, "I feel fine."
Gallagher told the military jury ahead of his sentencing that he took full responsibility for the "black eye" he put on the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy, specifically the SEALs.
"I’ve made mistakes in my 20-year career, tactical, ethical, moral. I’m not perfect but I’ve always bounced back from my mistakes during my career. I’m ready to bounce back from this," he said.
The military jury ordered Gallagher to four months confinement but he was freed Wednesday because he already served seven months ahead of trial. At one point, the jury asked the judge what reducing Gallagher's rank to E-5 would mean for him. Ultimately, after two hours of deliberations, they decided to reduce his rank to E-6.
Present at the sentencing was Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was one of dozens of congressional Republicans who supported a "Free Eddie" campaign that garnered the attention of President Donald Trump.
Trump appeared to suggest that he had intervened in the case in a tweet on Wednesday.
"Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!" the tweet read.
Chief Eddie Gallagher arriving with his wife for closing statements in his suspected war crimes trial. Asked if worried he says not at all. I ask how he’s feeling and Gallagher responded, “Good.” @nbcsandiego pic.twitter.com/NLaRWMSE1E— Bridget Naso (@BridgetNaso) July 1, 2019
Trump had Gallagher moved from the brig to more favorable confinement at a Navy hospital this spring and was reportedly considering a pardon for him.
Gallagher was cleared on Tuesday in the killing of a wounded Islamic State captive under his care in Iraq in 2017. He was also cleared of attempted murder in the shootings of two civilians and all other charges.
The only charge he was found guilty of was wrongful posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.
The outcome of the case dealt a major blow to one of the Navy's most high-profile war crimes cases and exposed a generational conflict within the ranks of the elite special operations forces.
After the verdict was read on Tuesday, the defense attorneys jumped up from their seats as Gallagher turned and embraced his wife over the bar of the gallery.
Gallagher, dressed in his Navy whites sporting a chest full of medals, told reporters outside court that he was happy and thankful.
"I thank God, and my legal team and my wife," he said.
He declined to address questions about his SEAL team. His lawyers said he might talk after the jury decides his sentence.
Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
His wife, Andrea Gallagher, who was by his side throughout the court-martial, said she was elated.
"I was feeling like we're finally vindicated after being terrorized by the government that my husband fought for for 20 years," Andrea Gallagher said before the couple drove away from Naval Base San Diego in a white convertible Mustang to start celebrating.
She vowed to continue to take action over what she has described as prosecutorial misconduct and a shoddy investigation that led to her husband going to trial. She said she wants Naval Special Warfare Group 1 Commodore Capt. Matthew D. Rosenbloom to resign, among other things.
Defense lawyers said Gallagher was framed by junior disgruntled platoon members who fabricated the allegations to oust their chief and the lead investigator built the probe around their stories instead of seeking the truth. They said there was no physical evidence to support the allegations because no corpse was ever recovered and examined by a pathologist.
The prosecution said Gallagher was incriminated by his own text messages and photos, including one of him holding the dead militant up by the hair and clutching a knife in his other hand.
"Got him with my hunting knife," Gallagher wrote in a text with the photo.
The defense said it was just gallows humor and pointed out that almost all platoon members who testified against him also posed with the corpse.
The panel of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, were mostly seasoned combat veterans who served in Iraq and several had lost friends in war.
Most of the witnesses were granted immunity to protect them from being prosecuted for acts they described on the stand.
Lt. Jacob Portier, the officer in charge of the platoon, has been charged separately for overseeing Gallagher's re-enlistment ceremony next to the corpse and not reporting the alleged stabbing.
The Navy is still pursuing the case against Portier, defense lawyer Jeremiah J. Sullivan III said.