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Final Arguments Heard In Trial Of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher


The case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq is now in the hands of a military jury. Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is charged with killing a wounded 17-year-old ISIS fighter and with shooting at civilians with his sniper rifle. Testimony has been explosive, especially last week when a witness for the prosecution said that he, not Gallagher, had killed the teenager. Some of the details of this case may be hard to listen to.

Reporter Steve Walsh of member station KPBS is in the San Diego courtroom throughout this trial. He joins us now. And Steve, final arguments were today, so let's start with what prosecutors said about their witness who claimed that he was the killer.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Well, the prosecutors said that he was the killer. That's Corey Scott - bombshell revelation from the first week of this case, where he said that he had closed the breathing tube of this wounded detainee and he was the one who actually killed him. Now, of course he is also one of two Navy SEALs who said they saw Gallagher stab the wounded detainee with his knife. Other SEALs have testified that they - that he shot unarmed civilians. Prosecutors showed, again, the jury the photo of Gallagher posing with the body of the dead detainee with a text message that he sent out saying, great story, got him with my hunting knife. The prosecutor said, mostly, pictures are worth a thousand words; this was worth one, and that's guilty.

Now, the defense is painting this as a picture of younger SEALs who are out to get their much more experienced chief. In fact, the defense attorney, Tim Parlatore, called them entitled young SEALs. You know, their complaints start small, but they start to escalate over time when the commanders don't seem to take them very seriously. You know, though, on the other hand, no one saw Gallagher pull the trigger when he - in any of the people that he's accused of shooting with his sniper rifle.

CORNISH: And beyond this unexpected testimony, there have been more twists in this case. Remind us.

WALSH: There have indeed. So the prosecutor - the lead prosecutor was removed for what was called spying on the defense by sending out email trackers. President Trump had tweeted out that Gallagher should be removed from the brig. His - Gallagher's wife and brother have been making the rounds of conservative media to plead his case. And Gallagher is actually mentioned as someone that Trump may pardon pretrial even if - even though some of his supporters - Gallagher's supporters - say that they want to see the military justice system go forward, fearing the impact around the world if U.S. forces are seen as being above the law.

CORNISH: Now, a military jury will decide this case. Can you talk about that - how that is different from the civilian process?

WALSH: Well, this is a panel of only seven, and it only takes five of them - two-thirds - to convict on any one of these charges. They also have the ability to downgrade some of these charges. Like, murder can become attempted murder or even aggravated assault. Overseeing all of this is what's called a convening authority which decides who goes through court martial and could theoretically dismiss this case if they wanted to.

CORNISH: Finally, what happens next?

WALSH: So what happens next is the jury was - is going to have to decide who to believe. There is a Marine Raider who also testified, Giorgio Kirylo, who said he saw no stab wound on the neck. Now, prosecutors also mentioned that he visited Gallagher in the brig and the like. So they're going to have to sift through all of this eyewitness testimony and decide, in fact, who is telling the truth in all of this.

CORNISH: That's Steve Walsh, reporter in San Diego from KPBS. Thanks so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a military reporter, Steve Walsh delivers stories and features for TV, radio and the web.