FORT HOOD, Texas — 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 Thursday 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 killing by Trevino last summer in Iraq was unjustified because the insurgent was severely wounded from a gunbattle and posed no threat.
Trevino's attorneys said he followed the rules of engagement because he thought the 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.
The seven-member jury deliberated for about an hour. The jury's decision did not have to be unanimous; at least two-thirds had to agree on a decision.
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.
Stevens said the government only presented one soldier who was actually on the mission and that the soldier's testimony had numerous inconsistencies.
He 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.
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.