U.S. soldier acquitted in Iraqi murder | VailDaily.com

U.S. soldier acquitted in Iraqi murder

Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii ” A court-martial panel on Friday found a Hawaii-based soldier not guilty in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi during a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout last year.

Sgt. 1st Class Trey Corrales’ friends and family erupted in cheers when the head of the nine-member military panel, or jury, read the verdict.

They acquitted Corrales of all three charges, including premeditated murder, after more than seven hours of deliberation.

Corrales, of San Antonio, would have faced a minimum sentence of life in prison if he had been convicted.

He said it felt like a 200-pound weight had been lifted off his back.

“I felt confident. I know this is going to sound weird but I wasn’t surprised,” Corrales said. “But it was just a long time coming.”

Corrales’ wife, Lily, told their daughter Victoria, 7, “Your daddy’s free! He’s OK” moments after the verdict was read.

He held his 10-year-old son, Trey II, in a long embrace.

Corrales, 35, admitted shooting the man after his platoon burst into a house in the village of Al Saheed near Kirkuk last June. The platoon was looking for insurgents they suspected of firing at U.S. helicopters and planting roadside bombs.

But Corrales argued the killing fell within the rules of engagement governing the use of deadly force. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

An Army report said the victim’s name was Salih Khatab Aswad, but no one came forward to claim his body and the U.S. military was unable to confirm his identity. An autopsy determined he died from multiple gunshot wounds.

The prosecution argued Corrales deliberately shot and killed the man after he was subdued and securely in the custody of U.S. soldiers. Prosecutors said the Army platoon sergeant took the man to the backyard of the house, told the man to run and then shot him.

But Frank Spinner, Corrales’ defense lawyer, highlighted inconsistencies in the testimony of prosecution witnesses and cast doubt on their credibility. He said the government didn’t show the bullets from Corrales’ M4 killed the man.

“There are pieces of the puzzle that are missing,” Spinner said during his closing argument, adding the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Corrales denied leading Aswad to the backyard and said he found him standing there when he checked to make sure the area was secure. That’s when he said he shot him, not realizing Aswad was unarmed.

Spinner said Corrales fired his weapon because he reasonably believed the man posed a threat to the platoon.

“This was a dynamic environment, an intense mission and he believed he was acting to protect his men,” Spinner said.

No prosecution witness said they saw Aswad being shot.

One witness, platoon member Spc. Franklin Hambrick, testified he saw Corrales aim his M4 rifle at the man but he turned around to go back inside and only heard shooting after entering the house.

The jury also acquitted Corrales ordering a subordinate, Pvt. Christopher Shore, to fire additional shots at the man and planting an AK-47 at the scene to create the impression the man used it.

Shore fired two shots at the man after Corrales, and was convicted in February of aggravated assault for his role in the shooting. He’s currently serving a 120 day sentence.

The incident came about 11 months into a 15 month deployment for Corrales’ 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks.

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