updated 3/14/2007 7:40:18 PM ET 2007-03-14T23:40:18

A staff sergeant gave soldiers the option of taking part in the shooting of three Iraqi detainees before the killings took place, a soldier testified Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard, 24, called members of his squad into a meeting near Samarra, Iraq, in May and said the three men were going to be shot after they were freed, Pfc. Juston Graber testified. Girouard said Spc. William Husaker and Pfc. Corey Clagett were going to shoot the men, but other soldiers had the option to take part or leave, Graber said.

Girouard, 24, who is charged with murder, is the last and most senior soldier from the 101st Airborne Division to face trial in the killings during a May 9 raid on a suspected insurgent camp. He is accused of ordering soldiers in his squad to kill the men and cover up their crime as self-defense.

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday afternoon, and defense lawyers planned to continue their case when the trial resumed Thursday.

Graber pleaded guilty in January to aggravated assault for shooting one of the three detainees who had been wounded and was sentenced to nine months in a military jail.

Graber said that after the detainees were shot, he walked over to two who appeared to still be alive.

“There was one that was puking up blood and had agonizing breathing,” Graber said. “Sgt. Girouard said, ’Go ahead and put him out of his misery.’ I felt it was the right thing to do.”

Aiming for the eye
Graber pointed to a photo of the detainee that he shot, pointing out the entry wound just below his left eye. Graber said he aimed there because he knew that would cause immediate death.

Graber said although he initially didn’t tell investigators about the meeting and his “mercy killing” of the detainee, he confessed to investigators in June.

“I wanted to get it off my chest,” Graber said.

Graber is the third soldier charged in the killings to testify against Girouard.

Husaker and Clagett testified Tuesday that Girouard gave them the order to release the three men and shoot them as they fled. Both pleaded guilty to murder and were sentenced to 18 years in military prison.

“Sgt. Girouard said Clagett and Hunsaker wanted to kill the detainees,” Graber testified Wednesday.

Soldiers had previously told investigators they were given rules of engagement by 3rd Brigade commander Col. Michael Steele to kill all military-age men. Steele has denied this but invoked his right not to testify.

A judge ruled last week that Steele will not be forced to testify, but defense attorneys could cross-examine the witnesses about their understanding of Steele’s order.

Girouard faces a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole if convicted.

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