Combat veterans who lost friends and comrades in battle are being questioned as potential jurors in the war-crimes trial of a decorated Navy SEAL.
Seven Marines, including one woman who is a major, four sailors and one Navy SEAL were interviewed Monday as jury selection began in the court-martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher.
A jury of officers and enlisted personnel was likely to be seated Tuesday and opening statements presented at the San Diego Navy base, defense lawyer Tim Parlatore said outside court.
Gallagher is accused of stabbing to death a wounded teenage Islamic State prisoner and wounding two civilians — an elderly man and a school-age girl — in sniper shootings in Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder — charges that carry a potential life sentence.
Gallagher contends that the allegations were cooked up by disgruntled platoon mates because they didn’t like his tough leadership.
The lead prosecutor was removed from the case earlier this month for tracking the defense team’s emails.
President Donald Trump has suggested he may pardon Gallagher.
All but two of the potential jurors questioned Monday were veterans of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each said they thought it possible that Navy SEALs could lie and that they could turn in a comrade on false allegations.
They also said they could convict someone in the killing of a member of the Islamic State and in the case where no body was recovered.
No bodies or crime scene evidence from the war zone were retrieved.
If Gallagher is convicted, the panelists said they would consider post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury at sentencing, if relevant, along with his military record.
Gallagher has been treated for a brain injury after serving eight tours of duty. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star for valor in combat.
Parlatore said he hoped to have a panel made up of troops who understand what it’s like to be in the thick of battle.
Five jurors said they had personally faced the enemy, including a Marine master sergeant who had been in 30 straight days of firefights in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. He said he lost his best friend who was shot in the heart by a sniper in Baghdad.
In total, eight had lost friends or fellow troops in combat.
Gallagher also lost friends and comrades in battle.
Five jurors said they had experience escorting or transporting detainees, including those who were wounded and resisted capture.
Defense lawyers unsuccessfully sought to have a Navy judge dismiss the case because they say investigators and prosecutors withheld evidence that could help Gallagher and violated his rights to a fair trial by embedding tracking software in emails sent to them.
The judge, Capt. Aaron Rugh, refused to dismiss the case. But he took steps to make sure Gallagher gets a fair trial and remedy violations of his constitutional right against illegal searches and the right to counsel. Rugh released Gallagher from custody, removed the lead prosecutor and reduced the maximum penalty he faces if convicted to life imprisonment with parole — instead of no chance of parole.