SAN DIEGO — Defense lawyers went on the offensive Wednesday in the murder trial of a decorated Navy SEAL charged with killing a wounded Islamic State prisoner in Iraq and shooting at civilians.
The prosecution rested its case a day earlier in the San Diego court-martial of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher.
Also on Tuesday, the judge in the case rejected a defense request to issue a summary judgment finding Gallagher not guilty of murder and attempted murder.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Vanderpool testified for the defense that he never heard Gallagher talk about hurting civilians or stabbing anyone. He said Gallagher had an intense style and would get on his SEAL teammates for not cleaning their guns and not understanding their weapons equipment.
Some fellow SEALs didn’t share Gallagher’s aggressive attitude, and Vanderpool said he sensed the team was starting to “fracture.”
The defense also planned to show jurors videotaped testimony from an Iraqi general who handed over the fighter to Gallagher for medical treatment after the adolescent was wounded in an airstrike. The general gave videotaped testimony in June when he visited San Diego.
Prosecution witnesses, including a fellow Navy SEAL, testified that Gallagher stabbed the prisoner twice in the neck in May 2017 and that the attack could have been fatal.
Defense lawyers say testimony from the Iraqi general and other witnesses will show Gallagher isn’t guilty. They already have contended that the witnesses against him offered tainted or even false testimony. They have questioned the methodology of the chief investigator and noted the lack of a body or other physical evidence.
Prosecutors called seven SEALs from the platoon to testify in the court-martial at Naval Base San Diego that started a week ago.
One witness, Corey Scott, a medic, shocked the courtroom last week after he admitted to the killing, saying he plugged the militant’s breathing tube after Gallagher stabbed the boy as an act of mercy because he feared he would be tortured and possibly killed by Iraqi forces if he survived.
Defense attorney Timothy Parlatore told the judge Wednesday that he received an email from the convening authority — the Navy’s chain of command — stating that fellow SEALs who had taken the stand could be prosecuted for earlier acts despite being granted immunity.
The judge, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, said those who had testified could only be prosecuted if they lied on the witness stand, and not for any other statements.
“I think it’s pretty clear that those statements can’t be used for any purpose other than perjury that occurred in this courtroom,” Rugh said.
On Tuesday, a computer specialist testified that Gallagher had texted a photo to a comrade in which he clutched the hair of the dead captive in one hand and a knife in the other.
The specialist also linked Gallagher to a text message sent to a comrade that bragged: “Got him with my hunting knife.”
Parlatore called the photos of Gallagher posing with the corpse in poor taste but not criminal. Several of the same SEALs who had testified against Gallagher also posed with the dead body in a platoon photo, he noted.
No blood was found on the knife.
Gallagher, 40, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the case of the prisoner and attempted murder for his alleged shooting of a young girl and elderly man in separate incidents outside Mosul. The defense said the shooting incidents were based on the accounts of one SEAL and one former SEAL who never saw Gallagher pull the trigger.
Fellow defense lawyer Marc Mukasey suggested earlier Tuesday that the lead investigator, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Joseph Warpinski, befriended witnesses and encouraged them to speak with each other and go after Gallagher in violation of standard investigation practices.
Warpinski acknowledged making some mistakes in the hundreds of text messages he exchanged with witnesses, but denied making friends with them or encouraging them to discuss the case to get their stories straight or to target the chief. He said he had to build rapport with members of the insular special forces community to earn their trust and cooperation.
Mukasey also suggested Warpinski had not asked pertinent questions of witnesses, such as the cause of death of the captive fighter and why Gallagher, an 18-year veteran and trained corpsman, would suddenly kill a patient he was treating for battle wounds.
Scott testified that he thought the patient would have survived the stabbing, despite previously telling the prosecution his life could not have been saved.
Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber and Brian Melley contributed from Los Angeles.