SAN DIEGO (CN) – Jurors exonerated Navy SEAL chief Edward Gallagher of premeditated murder charges Tuesday, after a day of deliberations in the nationally watched court-martial of war crimes accusations in the 2017 stabbing of an Islamic State fighter in Mosul, Iraq.
The all-male jury of five Marines and two members of the U.S. Navy did find Gallagher guilty of the least serious of the seven charges he faced, posing for unauthorized photos with the corpse of the adolescent IS fighter.
He faces a maximum of four months of detention on the guilty charge but is likely to walk free since he was detained from Sept. 11, 2018, until March 30.
Gallagher could also face a demotion in rank and pay once sentenced if he is sentenced to any additional time in confinement.
Immediately following the verdict, Gallagher’s attorney Timothy Parlatore told reporters gathered outside the courthouse “we admitted from the beginning he was in that photograph.”
Marc Mukasey, another one of Gallagher’s attorneys who is also a personal attorney to President Donald Trump, added: “Suffice to say huge victory, huge weight off the Gallaghers – huge victory for justice.”
Gallagher and his wife Andrea addressed reporters after the sentencing hearing was conducted Tuesday afternoon. The exonerated SEAL chief said he was “happy and thankful,” while his wife called the court-martial “disgusting,” thanked supporters who funded their legal defense and vowed to take action against “a lot of bad actors” in the Navy.
The verdict follows a two-week court-martial alleging Gallagher stabbed and killed a wounded adolescent IS fighter while deployed to Iraq in 2017. Gallagher was also accused of shooting at an elderly unarmed Iraqi man from a sniper tower and shooting a girl wearing a flower hijab, as well as shooting indiscriminately at a group of civilians.
Much of the trial focused on text messages, photos and video sent by Gallagher and members of the SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon, including the images the teammates took with the deceased IS fighter.
During closing arguments Monday, Navy prosecutor Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk showed a text message Gallagher sent from abroad which read “I’ve got a cool story for you when I get back. I got my knife skills on,” which accompanied a photo of Gallagher with the dead fighter.
Pietrzyk said Gallagher’s comments to his Alpha Platoon teammates before rendering aid to the imprisoned fighter – including “Don’t touch him, he’s mine” – showed he had planned to kill the IS fighter and not save his life, as requested by a general with the Iraqi Emergency Response Division who wanted to interrogate the fighter.
But Gallagher’s defense team also showed text messages from Gallagher’s teammates in a private WhatsApp group chat dubbed “The Sewing Circle” to bolster their contention Gallagher’s platoon planned a mutiny against him upon returning to San Diego from deployment in Iraq.
In one of the text messages shown in court, SEAL Petty Officer First Class Dalton Tolbert threatened to “burn this motherfucking courthouse to the ground,” after expressing frustration with the case.
The bombshell testimony by Corey Scott, one of Gallagher’s teammates who claimed he – not Gallagher – killed the IS fighter by plugging his breathing tube and asphyxiating him, threw a wrench in the testimony offered by other members of the platoon who said Gallagher killed the IS fighter by stabbing him in the neck.
Gallagher did not testify.
Sentencing – which is done by the jury – began Tuesday afternoon in Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh’s courtroom on Naval Base San Diego, where character witnesses and treating physicians of Gallagher took the stand. The jury will resume sentencing deliberations Wednesday.