A military jury Thursday acquitted an Army sergeant of premeditated murder in the death of an unarmed Iraqi insurgent who was killed in a village overrun by al-Qaida operatives.
The family of Sgt. Leonardo Trevino gasped, clapped and sobbed after the verdict in his court-martial was read. The 31-year-old from San Antonio also was cleared on charges of attempted murder, solicitation to commit murder and three counts of obstruction of justice.
Trevino said he felt betrayed by the soldiers who testified against him but that he held no ill will toward the Army.
"I can stand here and say I'm proud to wear the uniform," he said.
Military prosecutors said in closing arguments that the Iraqi's slaying last summer was unjustified because the insurgent was severely wounded from a gun battle and posed no threat.
Trevino's attorneys said he followed the rules of engagement because he thought the al-Qaida insurgent was reaching for a gun.
The seven-member jury deliberated an hour Thursday after lengthy closing arguments that spilled into the afternoon session. The jury's decision did not have to be unanimous; at least two-thirds had to agree on a decision.
Prosecutors declined to comment after the trial.
After the June firefight in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, the soldiers went into a house and found an insurgent on the floor with about two dozen bullet wounds and a broken arm. Linger reminded jurors of witness testimony that Trevino shot the insurgent in the abdomen, told one soldier to place a weapon by the Iraqi and then told them to say he had been armed.
Several witnesses testified that Trevino told them he shot the insurgent because the man had a gun.
A medic also had testified that Trevino ordered him to suffocate the Iraqi, and when he told his sergeant that the man was still alive, he shot him — this time, fatally.
"The accused was a tactical, superior NCO," prosecutor Maj. Scott Linger said. "It was because of that knowledge and expertise that on this day what he wanted to get away with was killing that insurgent no matter what."
Defense attorney Richard V. Stevens said the government only presented one soldier who was on the mission that night and that his testimony had numerous inconsistencies.
Stevens said the soldiers who reported Trevino didn't come forward until two months after the incident and did so because they were upset with his disciplinary measures. Stevens said they wanted to get rid of him as their leader and had no idea their accusations — which did not include murder — would result in a court-martial.