WIESBADEN, Germany — A military court was shown shaky video from a surveillance drone aircraft as a court-martial began Monday for a U.S. tank commander accused of killing an Iraqi man who witnesses have said was critically wounded.
Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 30, of Chicago, entered a plea of not guilty and could face a maximum sentence of 20 years and three months if convicted of assault with intent to commit murder.
Maynulet, wearing full dress uniform, stood as his lawyer, Capt. Will Helixon, entered the plea.
The charges stemmed from a May 21 incident when Maynulet was leading his 1st Armored Division tank company on a patrol near the city of Kufa, south of Baghdad, where heavy fighting had been reported.
They encountered a car thought to be carrying a driver for radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and another militiaman loyal to the cleric. U.S. soldiers chased the vehicle and fired at it, wounding both the driver and passenger.
When a medic pulled the driver out of the car, it was clear he had suffered critical injuries, with part of his skull blown away, according to testimony heard during Maynulet's Article 32 hearing — the military's equivalent of a civilian grand jury investigation.
Prosecutor Capt. Dan Sennott quoted Maynulet as having said: "I then fired two rounds into the driver to be sure he was dead."
He argued that Maynulet had violated rules of engagement because the driver, although a paramilitary combatant, was injured and unarmed.
In the surveillance video, military Humvees could be seen chasing a black sedan that crashed into a wall surrounding a house. The drone then zoomed in on what appeared to be a man lying on the ground beside the crashed car, waving one arm but otherwise motionless.
The outline of a soldier in a helmet and battle gear could then be seen aiming a weapon at the man, which was followed by a flash. In a subsequent image, the man appeared to twitch as though hit again.
Maynulet's fellow officers said at the Article 32 hearing that he shot the man in an act of compassion to end his suffering.
Maynulet's command was suspended May 25, but he has remained with his unit, serving on the division's planning staff. He has not commented on the facts in the case, but lawyer Helixon said when he was arraigned in December that "he maintains that his actions were justified."
Maynulet, whose wife, Brooke, and parents were in court, watched intently as the surveillance video was shown.
The military has only referred to the driver as an "unidentified paramilitary member," but relatives named him as Karim Hassan, 36. The family does not dispute that he was working for al-Sadr.
As the proceedings began, the judge in the case, Col. James Pohl, threw out a second charge of dereliction of duty after the defense argued that prosecutors had not specified which duty he neglected.
In an unrelated case Monday, a military court found a U.S. soldier guilty of refusing to perform his duty as a mechanic. Spec. Blake Lemoine, 23, of Moraville, La., serving with the 5-96th Maintenance Company of the 16th Combat Support Group, was sentenced to seven months in prison and ordered him discharged with bad conduct.
Lemoine said he had asked to leave the Army after returning from a yearlong tour in Iraq. He gave several reasons for his decision at a news conference last week that was sponsored by several anti-war groups. In particular, he argued that his duties as an ordained pagan minister were in conflict with his job in the Army.
"I am incredibly sorry for any hardship or difficulty I have created," Lemoine told the court before he was sentenced. Lemoine is granted an automatic appeal under military rules.
"I don't agree" with the ruling, Lemoine told reporters after the court-martial. "I don't regret my action."
Lemoine said he had launched a hunger strike, which he vowed to continue while in prison.
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