San Diego

Military Jury Finds Navy SEAL Not Guilty of Murder

In closing arguments, both sides told the jury of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, that witnesses had lied on the stand and it was their duty to push through the evidence to find the truth

A seven-man military jury reached a verdict Tuesday in the court-martial for Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, finding him not guilty of murdering a wounded war prisoner in Iraq.

Gallagher was charged with premeditated murder of a male ISIS detainee by stabbing, obstruction of justice by attempting to discourage members of his platoon from reporting his actions, attempted premeditated murder of a noncombatants by shooting, retaliation against members of his platoon for reporting his criminal actions, wrongful willful discharge of a firearm in circumstances to endanger human life, and wrongful posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.

He was found not guilty on all charges except wrongful posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.

“The jury found him not guilty of the murder, not guilty of the stabbing, not guilty of the shootings, not guilty of all those things. They did find him guilty of taking a photograph with a dead terrorist, which we admitted from the beginning that he was in that photograph,” said Tim Parlatore, Gallagher's attorney.

Gallagher's defense team briefly spoke to the press inbetween the verdict and the sentencing, saying the Navy SEAL felt “tears of joy, emotion, freedom, absolute euphoria, and proud of the process.”

Gallagher's one guilty charge carries up to four months in prison. He has already served roughly nine months in confinement.

“What the Navy needs to learn is that before they charge somebody they do a proper investigation. They make sure they actually have evidence before they go forward,” Parlatore said.

Gallagher's wife, Andrea Gallagher, echoed this idea when asked about how she felt when the verdict was read.

“I was feeling like we’re finally vindicated after being terrorized by the government that my husband fought for for two decades in the war on terror,” she said. “I think that this vindication, I hope, will be a lesson learned to everybody that we need to uphold innocent until proven guilty, due process, and we need to afford the benefit of the doubt to our war heroes who we send over there to fight these evils.”

The jury was sent home Monday and was set to return Wednesday to wrap up the sentencing.

“We have a sentencing to do, but the maximum sentence on what they’re about to sentence him on is much less than the time they’ve already had him in the brig, so he is going home,” Parlatore said.

One question yet to be answered is if the conviction will impact Gallagher's rank or benefits.

Though, a quiet Gallagher told press he was "happy and thankful" with the verdict Tuesday.

Char and Robert Ekoniak, family friends of the Gallaghers, spoke to the press about the not guilty verdicts.

“We’re elated. We’ve been behind Eddie and his family and Andrea and the kids since this past October, visiting him at the brig and just being loyal friends since the beginning knowing that he was innocent all along,” Char Ekonia said.

Robert Ekoniak served with the Navy and has since retired.

“I cried like a little baby because it was very emotional,” Robert said. “Eddie Gallagher is an incredible individual and a SEAL through and through. And to see somebody of that kind of caliber and character and integrity be accused of such offenses and then be relegated to public scrutiny as such without actually knowing the truth – it was a very emotional thing.”

The panel weighed whether Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a 19-year veteran on his eighth deployment, went off the rails and fatally stabbed the war prisoner on May 3, 2017, as a kind of trophy kill, or was the victim of allegations fabricated after the platoon returned to San Diego to stop him from getting a Silver Star and being promoted.

Gallagher, 40, 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.

In closing arguments, both sides told the jury of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, that witnesses had lied on the stand and it was their duty to push through the evidence to find the truth.

The two-week trial included the testimonies of nearly a dozen SEALs, including Special Operator Corey Scott, a medic like Gallagher, who told the court that he saw the chief stab the Islamic State militant in the neck but stunned the court when he said he was the one who ultimately killed the prisoner by plugging his breathing tube with his thumb as an act of mercy.

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. He never mentioned the asphyxiation before because prosecutors never asked him the cause of death.

He may now face perjury charges. 

Seven SEALs said Gallagher unexpectedly stabbed the prisoner moments after he and the other medics treated the detainee. Two, including Scott, testified they saw Gallagher plunge his knife into the prisoner's neck.

The jury saw text messages sent by Gallagher that read, "Got him with my hunting knife," along with the photo he took with the dead fighter during a reenlistment ceremony.

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.

They have also argued that SEALs conjured false accusations against Gallagher because he was tough on them. Parlatore repeated a line from opening statements during closings on Monday: "This is case is not about murder, it's about mutiny." 

The final witness testified under immunity on June 28. Lieutenant Commander Robert Briesch, a 10-year friend of Gallagher's, said a captain who had a personal issue with the chief made the original complaint that launched the criminal investigation.

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 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.

Gallagher, whose case has drawn President Donald Trump's attention, faced seven counts that include premeditated murder and attempted murder. He was also accused of shooting two civilians — an elderly man and a school-age girl — from sniper perches in Iraq in 2017.

Under the military justice system, the prosecution needs two-thirds of the jury, or in this case five jurors, to agree to a guilty verdict to convict. Jurors can also convict him of lesser charges or acquit him.

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