A seven-member military jury panel has acquitted Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, on charges of murder, witness intimidation, and assault. The charges stemmed from a 2017 deployment in Iraq during which fellow SEALs said Gallagher stabbed a captive teenage ISIS fighter in the neck. The ISIS fighter, whom Gallagher was treating for air-strike injuries, later died. Three SEALs also said they saw Gallagher shoot two civilians. The jurors found Gallagher guilty of one count related to pictures he took next to the corpse of the Iraqi fighter.
After the verdict was read, Gallagher, his wife and his defense team stood up and began hugging. Gallagher told reporters after the verdict was read: “I’m happy and I’m thankful. I thank God, and my legal team and my wife.” He still faces the impending sentencing for wrongful posing for photos with a human casualty but his according to his defense attorney Tim Parlatore “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 that they’ve already had him in the brig, so he is going home.” The same jury that tried Gallagher sentenced him on July 3, 2019, for posing with the corpse. The jury gave Gallagher, who served the maximum prison time for this charge, a demotion from Chief Petty Officer (E-7) to Petty Officer First Class (E-6); a lighter sentence than other potential punishments, such as an other than honorable discharge (OTH).
The jury of five Marines and two sailors — one of whom is a SEAL — had to decide if the boy was stabbed to death, or died from wounds sustained during an airstrike with Gallagher being falsely accused by disgruntled subordinates. Seven SEALs testified that Gallagher abruptly stabbed the teen prisoner on May 3, 2017, just after he and other medics treated the boy. Two of them said they witnessed Gallagher, a 19-year-veteran, stab the teen. But one of them, in an admission that stunned the courtroom, Special Operator Corey Scott, who is also a medic, said he was the person who killed the boy when he plugged his breathing tube with his thumb in an act of mercy.
An Iraqi general testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy, and Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said that he didn’t see any stab wounds on the young ISIS fighter when he moved the corpse to take a “cool guy trophy” photo with it. Navy Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk told the jury that while the detained Islamic fighter was not a sympathetic figure, he was under the control of the U.S. military, which meant he was no longer a lawful target. Pietrzyk also said that text messages sent by Gallagher prove his guilt. 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.” Pietrzyk then showed a photo of Gallagher holding up the dead prisoner’s head by the hair. Gallagher’s lawyers said the text was just an example of dark combat humor.
SEAL sniper Dalton Tolbert testified that he does not remember who started a group chat called “The Sewing Circle,” but the purpose of it was to connect with others who were disturbed by what they saw while deployed with Gallagher, and decide how to handle it. “I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that,” Tolbert wrote in one of the texts. One of the members of Gallagher’s unit — Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 testified that Gallagher confessed that he killed four women and two other SEAL petty officers told investigators Gallagher bragged about slaying “10-20 people a day or 150-200 people on deployment,” court documents state.
Court records state that one of the SEALS saw Gallagher fire into a crowd of what appeared to be noncombatants multiple times and another states that Gallagher claimed “he averaged three kills a day over 80 days.” Many of the SEALs that testified said that Gallagher attempted to cover up these alleged crimes by threatening to murder witnesses and embarking on a campaign to identify other whistleblowers, get them blacklisted in the special warfare community and ruin their careers. But with no body or autopsy evidence, the panel only had testimony of witnesses to review before deciding the fate of a man with a 19 year military career. Gallagher’s lawyers ultimately tried to prove that some SEALs wanted to derail Gallagher’s advancement to senior chief. Others were angry that he had been recommended for a post-tour combat valor award — the Silver Star — an honor they thought he didn’t deserve.