Prosecutors in the case of Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Eddie Gallagher appear to be hinging a murder charge of a wounded Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter on a text message sent by Gallagher to friends, according to Gallagher’s lawyer and local news reports.
In his opening statement in a San Diego courtroom on Tuesday, Navy prosecutor Lt. Brian John presented a jury of five Marines and two sailors with a photo Gallagher had texted to fellow SEALs showing him holding a knife by a dead ISIS fighter with the message: “Good story behind this one. Got him with my hunting knife.”
“He stabbed that wounded ISIS fighter to death, and then he celebrated that stabbing,” John said, according to the Associated Press. “He celebrated that murder.”
Gallagher’s defense attorney and Navy veteran Tim Parlatore said in his opening statement that Gallagher’s text was an attempt at dark humor, and that the prosecution has no body, autopsy, or any forensic evidence to show a killing happened.
“Is this photo in poor taste? Probably. Is it evidence of murder? No,” he said. He noted there was no blood on the knife featured in the photo he texted to friends, or on himself, according to a Fox5 report.
The prosecution is trying to prove that Gallagher, 40, stabbed and killed a wounded ISIS fighter, and mowed down a young girl and old man while leading a Navy SEAL Team 7 platoon deployment to Iraq in 2017.
The defense argued a small group of much younger Navy SEALs in his platoon made up lies because they hated their platoon chief. When contacted by Breitbart News late Tuesday, Parlatore said prosecutors “don’t have much else” besides from the text message.
“This case is not about murder. It’s about mutiny. He didn’t murder or attempt to murder anyone,” Parlatore said, according to the AP.
Parlatore also said witnesses for the shooting allegations were not in the same building as Gallagher and never saw the shootings he is accused of carrying out, according to Fox5. He also said that one of the shootings was reportedly done by an ISIS member.
Gallagher, who has served eight tours of duty and earned two Bronze stars for valor, faces seven counts including premeditated murder and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Parlatore argued that Gallagher’s subordinates conspired against him because he brought them closer to combat than they wanted and “didn’t want to be exposed to enemy fire.”
Parlatore said that during the deployment, they complained to superiors about Gallagher’s tactics and accused him of petty theft, according to Fox5.
When they returned home, and Gallagher was put in for commendations that included a Silver Star and a coveted instructor position, his subordinates were “defeated” and began to circulate rumors of the murder.
Parlatore told jurors they would see text messages between the young SEALs, in which they tried to get their stories straight, even as recently as a few weeks ago.
Parlatore told them they will see right through it “especially once they read through all the text messages of these guys planning their stories with one guy threatening the others not to change their stories. I don’t think it will be that tough of a hill to climb,” according to Fox5.
He said the younger SEALs — who are due to testify this week — videotaped and photographed nearly everything while they were overseas, yet somehow missed capturing the alleged murder.
Parlatore called the text messages Gallagher sent both the “single best and single worst piece of evidence” the prosecution has in the case.
The prosecution argued that Gallagher had begun a campaign to intimidate and discredit platoon mates by posting their names on social media and calling them “cowards in combat” and trying to sabotage their careers.
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, according to reports. The jury is reportedly composed of five enlisted men, including a Navy SEAL and four Marines, as well as a Navy commander and a Marine chief warrant officer. Most of them have served in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before Gallagher, a 19-year veteran, served as a Navy SEAL, he was a Navy medic attached to a Marine unit in Iraq.
The case has been shadowed by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, after the Navy prosecution sent emails with tracking software to defense attorneys and to a member of the media that would track their activity.
The judge in the case, Capt. Aaron Rugh, found that the prosecution used that software to spy on the defense team and removed the lead prosecutor, Cmdr. Chris Czaplak from the case just weeks ago.
The Navy has argued that it was part of an investigation to find leaks to the media, although the defense has accused prosecutors of leaking.
Rugh has also ordered Gallagher be released from custody over violations to his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights, and has reduced the maximum possible sentence of life without parole to life with the possibility of parole.
A New York Times report last month said President Trump was considering pardoning Gallagher by Memorial Day. Gallagher’s family and Republican lawmakers Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Ralph Norman (R-SC) have been championing his case.