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 Qaeda 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, who had testified in his own defense, said he felt betrayed by the soldiers who had 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 after tearful embraces with his relatives.
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.
Military prosecutors said in closing arguments that the killing last summer in Iraq was unjustified because the insurgent, whose name U.S. authorities never learned, 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 Qaeda insurgent was reaching for a gun.
We've got to stop micromanaging how troops on the ground react," defense "attorney Richard V. Stevens told jurors. "You're always reacting and you have to, and if you hesitate, you die."
Prosecutors declined to comment after the trial, as did the jurors.
Stevens said he felt all along that the case against Trevino was weak and that the government should have evaluated the evidence more thoroughly before deciding whether to proceed.
"The evidence should have been troubling for anyone," Stevens said after the verdict.
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. Maj. Scott Linger, the lead prosecutor, 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," Linger said. "It was because of that knowledge and expertise that on this day he wanted to get away with was killing that insurgent no matter what."
But in his closing arguments, 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 were seeking revenge because they disliked 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.
In March, Spc. John Torres, the Army medic accused of trying to suffocate the insurgent, was acquitted of attempted premeditated murder and dereliction of duty for failing to provide aid.
In another trial in March, Cpl. Justin Whiteman, accused of placing the pistol by the insurgent's body, was acquitted of accessory to attempted premeditated murder and with dereliction of duty.
In a similar case just last week in Hawaii, Army Sgt. 1st Class Trey Corrales was acquitted in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi during a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout last year.