The jury assigned to the case of accused Special Warfare Chief Edward Gallagher has found the decorated Navy SEAL not guilty of murder and attempted murder after a whirlwind trial that included bombshell revelations and twists.
The verdict was reached by the five Marines and two sailors Tuesday after the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments the day before.
Gallagher, 40, was accused of stabbing an injured teenage ISIS fighter to death and shooting at civilians during a deployment to Iraq in 2017. Seven members of Gallagher’s own platoon leveled the accusations against him, describing their chief as a reckless murderer who failed to distinguish between civilians and the enemy.
The accusers communicated through a WhatsApp group called “The Sewing Circle,” a seemingly innocuous name for a group dedicated to discussing the alleged war crimes of a decorated sniper and medic. Those discussions would be the basis on which Navy prosecutors would bring charges against Gallagher.
The case received national attention after a searing New York Times report detailed the gory accusations, including stabbing an injured teenage ISIS fighter and shooting an elderly man and a young girl. The report claimed the accusers were told to keep quiet about Gallagher’s actions or risk losing their tridents, the coveted badge identifying a sailor as a Navy SEAL.
Gallagher’s case drew further attention in May when it was reported that he was one of several accused troops being considered for pardons from President Trump. The news sharply divided the military community and even the Navy SEALs themselves. The SEAL community is known for being especially close-knit, but the Gallagher case created a clear division between old-school defenders and younger skeptics.
“When I heard about it first, I said, ‘That’s impossible, it’s outright stupid. It’s going to go away.’ Well, it didn’t,” Thomas “Drago” Dzieran, a former Navy SEAL, told the Washington Examiner in May.
“I said I cannot sit on the sidelines, I need to take [a stand] and bring it up. What they do is not right.”
Retired Adm. William McRaven, a legend within the SEAL community who helped plan the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, weighed in, saying he was concerned Trump’s potential pardon may have exercised undue command influence over the trial’s proceedings.
Gallagher’s case took a dramatic turn before the trial even started when it was revealed in May that prosecutors had embedded email tracking software in their correspondence with Gallagher’s defense team. The revelation outraged lead defense attorney Timothy Parlatore, who told the Washington Examiner he would be filing an ethics complaint against lead Navy prosecutor Cmdr. Chris Czaplak. Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, the judge overseeing the case, dismissed Czaplak over the revelations and released Gallagher from pre-trial custody. He also lowered Gallagher’s maximum possible sentence to life with the possibility of parole. He denied motions to dismiss the trial.
The trial started on June 17, with the prosecution presenting two witnesses who said they had seen Gallagher stab the injured teenager. Prosecutors showed the court pictures Gallagher had taken with the teen’s corpse. They said the chief bragged about the kill to fellow SEALs back home in text messages.
“Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife,” read one text Gallagher sent.
The testimony against Gallagher appeared damning, but the case took an unexpected turn when Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott declared it was he — not Gallagher — who was responsible for the death of the injured teenage fighter. Scott admitted to seeing Gallagher stab the teen but said he himself asphyxiated the fighter in an effort to save him from Iraqi captors, who he had seen torture, rape, and kill other prisoners.
“I knew he was going to die anyway,” said Scott, a trained combat medic. “I wanted to save him from waking up to what had happened next.”
The shocking revelation caused a flustered Navy prosecutor to call Scott a liar. Navy officials later informed Scott through his lawyer that he may face perjury charges if he lied to investigators or during his testimony.
Gallagher’s defense team presented two witnesses, Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo and Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abbas al-Jubouri, who denied seeing Gallagher stab the teenager at all. Gallagher’s spotter, Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam, testified that he and Gallagher both believed the elderly man Gallagher shot was actually an ISIS operative between the ages of 40 and 50.
Parlatore and lead prosecutor Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk summed up the testimony in their closing arguments Monday.
Pietrzyk admitted that before being injured, the fighter “would have done anything in his power to kill an American.” But he noted that after his capture, the teen was no longer a lawful target.
“We’re not ISIS. When we capture someone and they’re out of the fight, that’s it. That’s where the line is drawn,” Pietrzyk said.
Parlatore reiterated his claim that the SEALs who made accusations against Gallagher were nothing more than disgruntled subordinates upset with Gallagher’s tough leadership style.
“This case is not about murder, it’s about mutiny,” Parlatore said.
With a verdict of not guilty, Gallagher will not need a pardon from Trump, who stated he would wait until the trials were over in the cases the White House was reviewing before rendering a decision. With Gallagher’s case over, attention will likely turn to the case of Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who pleaded not guilty last week to a charge of premeditated murder for the killing of a suspected Taliban bomb-maker.