Closing arguments in the court-martial for a Navy SEAL chief accused of killing an injured Islamic State fighter in Iraq in May 2017 were heard Monday, and a seven-man military jury is now deliberating the verdict.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder in connection to the alleged war crimes.
His court-martial featured testimony from SEALs who served alongside him in combat, some of whom were with him when the alleged killing happened and some who were granted immunity before taking the stand.
The jury saw text messages sent by Gallagher that read, "Got him with my hunting knife," along with a photo he took with the dead fighter, and heard testimony from another SEAL who said the fighter died by his hands, not Gallagher's.
Gallagher's defense has not argued whether the picture was taken. His attorney said it was proabably taken in poor taste, but that it isn't evidence of a murder.
The jury asked for a recess Monday evening and returned Tuesday.
On Tuesday, jurors asked to rehear the testimony of Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas MacNeil who was deployed with Gallagher in Mosul, Iraq. MacNeil said he did not see the stabbing but did see the fighter before and after he died.
After hearing the prosecution speak and roughly 30 minutes of MacNeil’s testimony, which is when MacNeil confirmed the prisoner was dead, the jury continued deliberations.
The final witness testified under immunity on June 28. Lieutenant Commander Robert Briesch told the court he's been close friends with Chief Gallagher for about 10 years and has served alongside him on multiple deployments.
Briesch told prosecutors he had heard only rumors about Gallagher and possible criminal acts in Iraq until April of 2018. That's when he heard evidence that substantiated a preliminary investigation, he said.
The witness recalled possibly hearing about a photo Gallagher took with the dead fighter during a reenlistment ceremony prior to April, but considered it a rumor and didn't think anything more of it. He also said that Gallagher addressed the rumors with him and said he wanted to start an investigation of his own so he could clear his name.
Briesch said a captain who had a personal issue with Gallagher made the original complaint that launched the criminal investigation. That captain, according to Briesch, claimed Gallagher's career was based on lies around the same time it was announced Gallagher would be receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Briesch said that when Gallagher was promoted to senior chief, the same captain complained and said Gallagher didn’t pay for a haircut, stole food from him and that he didn’t like him.
Gallagher's defense has argued that SEALs conjured false accusations against Gallagher because he was tough on them.
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
During trial, Gallagher's attorney Tim Parlatore said the case wasn't about murder but about mutiny.
The prosecution and defense both rested following Briesch's testimony.
On June 27, an Iraqi general who fought alongside Gallagher's platoon in Iraq testified that he was there from the moment the fighter was taken captive to the moment he died, but did not see Gallagher stab him.
The general described the fight against the Navy SEALs and what he described was about 50 ISIS fighters. All were killed except one, the teenager who was wounded and taken captive by the SEAL team.
The general testified he was in the room with Gallagher and the other Navy SEALs who were giving the fighter medical treatment and never saw Gallagher stab the soldier in the neck.
On June 20, SEAL Corey Scott testified that he saw Gallagher stab the fighter, but said that is was he himself who actually killed him. Scott told the court he thought the fighter would survive Gallagher's stabbing and wanted to spare him being tortured by Iraqi forces, so he plugged his breathing tube.
Prosecutors said Scott had never mentioned the asphyxiation in multiple conversations with them before the trial. Scott said they never asked him the cause of death.
Scott had wanted to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but the judge rejected that. Instead, he granted him immunity to testify for the prosecution.
He may now face perjury charges.
Gallagher, whose case has drawn President Donald Trump's attention, faces seven counts that include premeditated murder and attempted murder. He's also accused of shooting two civilians — an elderly man and a school-age girl — from sniper perches in Iraq in 2017. He could face a life sentence if convicted.
The jury is composed of five enlisted men, including a Navy SEAL and four Marines, plus a Navy commander and a Marine chief warrant officer. Most of the jurors have served in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.