SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL fatally stabbed a wounded teenage ISIS fighter in the neck, shot at numerous Iraqi civilians and threatened fellow SEALs to keep them from reporting him, a prosecutor said Monday.
But a defense attorney called the allegations against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher fabrications from a “sewing circle” of “young, entitled sailors” looking to ruin the reputation of their former commanding officer.
Gallagher, 40, faces life in prison if convicted of murdering the teen in May 2017, as well as shooting a male and female civilian and shooting at an unknown number of other civilians later that year in Mosul, Iraq. Gallagher is also accused of posing with the teen’s body in a photograph, while he and other SEALs held a re-enlistment ceremony while standing over the corpse. Navy prosecutors estimate the ISIS fighter was about 15 years old.
The highly decorated veteran faces charges including murder, attempted murder, willful discharge of a firearm, obstruction of justice and wrongfully posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.
The jury of five Marines and two Navy men began weighing Gallagher’s fate Monday afternoon. Five members of the panel must reach consensus on each count Gallagher faces.
Prosecutor Jeff Pietrzyk said in his closing argument that despite a lack of physical evidence, text messages and pictures Gallagher took with the teen’s body are direct evidence of his guilt.
“Good story behind this one. Got him with my hunting knife,” read one of the text messages Gallagher allegedly sent to a colleague. “I got a cool story for you when I get back. I got my knife skills on.”
Prosecutors allege that once Gallagher received word of the prisoner, who was injured in an air strike, Gallagher said, “No one touch him. He’s mine.”
As Gallagher and others tended to the teen, he allegedly pulled out a hunting knife and stabbed the boy multiple times. Just over a month later, he allegedly shot two civilians, whose bodies were never recovered, and opened fire on a crowd of other civilians from a sniper’s nest.
Gallagher’s defense team claims the allegations are fabrications coming from a group of disgruntled subordinates who felt their platoon commander was too tough on them.
His attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said the SEALs who reported Gallagher are lying, and contended the government was relying entirely on their word in the face of a complete absence of physical evidence that any of the charged events ever occurred.
“No body, no forensics, no science, no evidence, no case,” Parlatore said.
The attorney emphasized that in addition to no bodies being recovered, no blood was ever seen on Gallagher or the hunting knife, despite photographs taken shortly after the stabbing allegedly happened. Without a body, a forensic expert testifying as an expert witness was unable to determine the teen’s cause of death based solely on video footage of the boy’s injuries.
In surprise testimony during the trial, First Class Petty Officer Corey Scott, testified that he suffocated the wounded ISIS fighter after Gallagher stabbed the teen in the neck. Scott said he held down the boy’s breathing tube because he did not want him to suffer or be tortured by Iraqis.
But Navy prosecutors said Gallagher’s text messages, particularly the wording of “Got him with my hunting knife,” is evidence of his admission to the murder.
“The government’s evidence in this case comes from Chief Gallagher’s words, Chief Gallagher’s actions and Chief Gallagher’s SEALs,” Pietrzyk said.
Parlatore argued that several SEALs posed with the ISIS fighter’s body and likened the text messages to “dark humor” that in no way proved Gallagher killed the teen.
According to Parlatore, SEAL Chief Craig Miller led the “sewing circle” campaign against Gallagher because other SEALs didn’t agree with his tactics.
The attorney said their efforts to discredit and remove Gallagher from his post began with accusations that he was stealing from care packages. When those allegations didn’t gain traction, Parlatore said the group escalated their claims bit by bit until eventually accusing Gallagher of murder.
Parlatore also accused the government of conducting a shoddy investigation that began with the foregone conclusion that Gallagher was guilty, and overlooked witnesses who might contradict that viewpoint.
Prosecutors allege that Gallagher threatened fellow SEALs over the allegations, and posted their names in private Navy social media groups in order to out them as traitors and sabotage their chances at career advancement.
But Gallagher’s attorneys argue he was simply trying to clear his name amid the volatile claims made against him, and that divulging the names of the men spreading malicious rumors was a means of warning fellow SEALs who might serve with those men in the future.
The trial has been dogged by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, with the trial judge finding that Navy prosecutors used tracking software to spy on the defense team’s email accounts.
The judge, Capt. Aaron Rugh, removed Cmdr. Chris Czaplak from the case just before the trial was set to begin, ruling the prosecution sent emails to the defense and a Navy Times reporter that were embedded with code that would track the recipients’ email activity.
The judge also ordered that Gallagher be released from custody due to violations of his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights and reduced the maximum possible sentence of life without parole to life with the possibility of parole.