Army Sergeant Says He's Innocent in Iraqi Murder Case

By: Angela K. Brown
By: Angela K. Brown

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- A military jury must soon decide whether an Army sergeant committed murder or followed the rules of engagement when he shot an unarmed insurgent in an Iraqi village overrun by al-Qaida forces.

The seven-member jury at Sgt. Leonardo Trevino's court-martial was to start deliberating Thursday after closing arguments by military prosecutors and defense attorneys.

In testimony that lasted more than three hours, Trevino said Wednesday that he was innocent of premeditated murder and other charges stemming from the June killing after a firefight in Muqdadiyah, Iraq.

Trevino testified that after following a trail of blood into a house, he thought the severely wounded insurgent was a threat because the flailing man might have been trying to trigger an explosive. After being shot about two dozen times, the man had fled to one house, jumped off its roof and then scaled a wall to get to the other house, Trevino said, leading him to wonder if the Iraqi was leading the soldiers there to sabotage them.

He said that during the chaotic scene, someone yelled that the Iraqi had or was reaching for a gun, so Trevino shot him. He then asked where the Iraqi's gun was, and one soldier pulled out a weapon and placed it on the floor, he said. But Trevino testified that he was disappointed in the implication that they had to cover up something, so he returned the pistol.

He testified that after a medic arrived and said the insurgent was about to die, the sergeant scoffed at the medic's suggestion of suffocating the man. He then left the house to give a report to his superior.

When Trevino returned, he said, he saw the insurgent's arm jerk, then fired his gun a second time as a reaction without aiming or looking at the man.

Trevino, a 1st Cavalry Division soldier from San Antonio, could face life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder, attempted murder, obstruction of justice and solicitation to commit murder.

Asked by his attorney whether he committed those crimes, Trevino said, "No, I did not."

Trevino acknowledged that the insurgent did not have a pistol, but he said he wasn't worried when questioned by Army investigators "because all those shots were legit."

Under cross-examination, Trevino said he saw that the insurgent's arm was broken, that he had gunshot wounds and that he did not feel the man was a threat after the medic arrived. He also said several U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were walking around the room, and he pointed out that explosives did not have to be in the room to be detonated.

Trevino acknowledged that he told two soldiers in the room that "I don't want this to come back on you," but said he meant he did not want them to have the responsibility of guarding a dangerous insurgent and the possibility of having to shoot him.

A key prosecution witness, Pvt. Tristan Miller, testified earlier that Trevino said those words before shooting the insurgent in the abdomen, then directed another soldier to drop a gun by the man and invented the story that the Iraqi was armed.

Miller also testified that he had kicked a pillow off the insurgent's arm and saw that he was unarmed and not a threat.

An Army investigator testified Wednesday that in three long interviews with Miller, the soldier never told him or wrote in his statements that he checked to see if the insurgent had a weapon.

"We needed to know what kind of threat level they were under by the insurgent in that room," Mikey Nogle, a special agent for the Army's Criminal Investigative Division, told the military jury.

The medic, Spc. John Torres, was acquitted in March of attempted premeditated murder and dereliction of duty for failing to provide aid.

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