NORTH FALMOUTH — Less than a year after pleading guilty to shooting and killing Army Sgt. Matthew Gallagher of North Falmouth, Brent McBride is scheduled to go before a parole board.
Sitting on her living room couch Saturday, Gallagher's mother Cheryl Ruggiero shrugged her shoulders and squinted her eyes as if searching the air for an explanation of how her son's killer could soon be free.
"Ten months?" she said. "What happened to 4½ years?"
During a general court-martial hearing last March, McBride, 26, of Fairhope, Ala., was sentenced to 4½ years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was demoted after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, violation of a general order and dereliction of duty.
McBride, also sergeant at the time, shot Gallagher in the head June 26, 2011 — about a week before Gallagher's 23rd birthday — in an apparent game of "quick-draw."
Ruggiero and Peter Gallagher, Matthew Gallagher's father, last week received letters advising them of McBride's Feb. 5 parole hearing in Arlington, Va., they both said.
When Ruggiero called a representative at Fort Leavenworth, she was shocked to find out that McBride's sentence already had been reduced to three years. "That's a sticking point with us," Ruggiero said of the Army not notifying family members of the sentence reduction.
In a general court-martial, a commanding general is allowed to increase or decrease sentences imposed by the judge presiding over the case, said Joseph Collins, a Salem lawyer who served as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps for more than three years. "If I had to guess, I'd say somewhere along the line, the general gave it some more thought and decided to reduce the sentence," Collins said in an interview Saturday.
Collins, who has never personally handled a military parole case, said he believed that prisoners become eligible for parole only after serving at least two-thirds of their sentence.
A victim/witness notification of inmate status sent to Ruggiero lists McBride's minimum release date as Sept. 20, 2014, 2½ years after he was sentenced.
A voicemail left with the Army Clemency and Parole Board in Arlington on Saturday evening was not returned. Messages left with McBride's attorney, Scot Sikes, and his father, the Rev. C.J. McBride, on Saturday also went unanswered.
"He pushed a gun right up against my son's head and shot him," said Peter Gallagher, a retired Quincy homicide detective. "It's a complete miscarriage of justice."
Family members of Matthew Gallagher have long doubted McBride's account of the shooting, which conflicts with some physical evidence.
In sworn statements following Matthew Gallagher's death while deployed to Al Kut, Iraq, McBride told special agent Gabriel Loarca of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command that he accidentally shot the sergeant, his roommate, during a game of quick-draw — in which the two competed to see who could draw his weapon more quickly on the other.
According to McBride's account, the two were in their shared trailer when he saw Matthew Gallagher load his own and McBride's pistols, chamber a bullet in each and then disengage the safeties.
About 10 minutes later, Gallagher pointed one of the pistols at McBride, as part of the game, and asked, "What would you do now?" McBride told the agent.
McBride said he then jokingly pointed his pistol at Matthew Gallagher from about 6 feet away, not knowing whether the gun was loaded, and pulled the trigger.
However, an autopsy report ruled Matthew Gallagher's death a homicide and concluded that the muzzle of McBride's gun was touching his roommate's head at the time of the shooting, which refutes the distance he claims.
Also, only one of the pistols was loaded, with the safety disengaged, when the CID agent found them at the scene.
"It's a military cover-up," said Peter Gallagher, who believes McBride's family ties to the Army, which were referenced during his sentencing, has afforded him some leniency. "I've seen fixes in court before "» but I've never seen anything like this in my life."
Gallagher's father wrote a victim impact statement to the parole board; his son's death has irreparably damaged his family, he said. Peter Gallagher believes his wife's suicide in June partially stemmed from Matthew Gallagher's death. She placed a picture of him next to her when she hanged herself, he said.
On Friday Ruggiero requested that she and her 15-year-old daughter Mia Ruggiero be allowed to speak before the parole board in addition to filing a written victim impact statement, she said. "If McBride's family is going to be there, then I want Matt's family represented," Ruggiero said Saturday. Her hair was still wet from participating in the Falmouth Military Support Group's polar plunge, which was held in honor of her son earlier that day.
Katie Gallagher, Gallagher's widow, could not be reached for comment Saturday.
As Ruggiero waits for notification of whether or not they may attend the hearing, the fact that she never received an apology from McBride still bothers her.
"Now that you're in prison and your lawyer's not speaking for you, you could have wrote me one letter saying, 'I'm sorry,'" Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero's family did not celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas this past holiday season, she said. Memories of Matthew Gallagher hurt more than last year, when family members were being regularly updated about McBride's prosecution.
Although she realizes McBride will eventually be released, Ruggiero hopes testimony from her and her daughter will be enough to keep him incarcerated for at least another year. "I really feel like it's depending on me and it's depending on my daughter," Ruggiero said. "He took a lot of things away from me."