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Jury deliberates case of Navy SEAL charged with murder

By The Associated Press
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — A jury of seasoned combat veterans partially reviewed a witness's testimony Tuesday after resuming deliberations in the murder case of a decorated Navy SEAL accused of fatally stabbing a wounded war prisoner in Iraq and shooting civilians in separate incidents in 2017.

Jurors took notes as they listened to a recording of Lt. Thomas MacNeil, the first of nearly a dozen SEALs who testified at the court-martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher at Naval Base San Diego.

MacNeil, a former roommate of Gallagher, described hearing a platoon radio transmission that an airstrike in support of Iraqi forces had wounded an Islamic State fighter.

"I heard Chief Gallagher announce, 'Lay off, he's mine,'" MacNeil said.

MacNeil said he saw Gallagher start to treat the wounded captive, who had a little bit of blood on one leg and when Gallagher applied pressure the captive shot up and yelled in pain, then lay back down.

MacNeil said he went to attend to other duties and returned later to find the prisoner dead.

The jurors also listened to MacNeil's testimony about being able to recognize a custom knife that Gallagher always attached to his belt loops or hung on the wall of their room at night. During that recording, one juror tapped another on the shoulder.

The jury only reviewed MacNeil's testimony under prosecution questioning.

The jury got the case Monday after closing arguments in which both sides told jurors that witnesses had lied.

The panel is weighing whether Gallagher, a 19-year veteran on his eighth deployment, fatally stabbed the war prisoner on May 3, 2017, 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.

A military prosecutor asserted the proof of Gallagher's guilt was his own words, his own photos and the testimony of his fellow troops, while defense lawyers called the case a "mutiny" by entitled, junior SEALs trying to oust a demanding chief.

The jury is made up of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, many of whom had been in combat in Iraq.

Defense lawyer Marc Mukasey said Tuesday that he expects a quick verdict, given the makeup of the jurors and the looming Fourth of July holiday.

"Everybody wants to celebrate the holiday, right?" said Mukasey, wearing a "Free Eddie" baseball cap emblazoned with the American Flag.

During the two-week trial Special Operator Corey Scott, a medic like Gallagher, said 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 him by plugging his breathing tube with his thumb as an act of mercy.

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

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

Navy Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk said in closing arguments that text messages by Gallagher show he is guilty.

One message said: "I've got a cool story for you when I get back. I've got my knife skills on." Another text stated: "Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife."

He then showed a photo of the dead prisoner with Gallagher holding up his head by the hair.

"The government's evidence in this case is Chief Gallagher's words, Chief Gallagher's pictures, Chief Gallagher's SEALs," Pietrzyk said.

The prosecutor acknowledged that the victim — a 17-year-old Islamic State fighter — is not sympathetic.

"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.

During the trial, it was revealed that nearly all the platoon members readily posed for photos with the dead prisoner and watched as Gallagher read his reenlistment oath near the body.

Another defense lawyer, Tim Parlatore, argued: "This is case is not about murder, it's about mutiny."

He said there's no body, no forensics, and the SEALs who testified against Gallagher lied because they didn't like his demanding leadership. He called the pictures of Gallagher clutching the corpse and his texts about his knife skills just the dark humor of a warrior.

Parlatore also contended that investigators never asked Scott about the cause of the death, which is why they were surprised by his testimony. Gallagher's attorneys said there are a number of things that could have caused the death.

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