Soldier convicted of killing roommate in Iraq up for parole
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
On June 26, 2011, a frantic Army Sgt. Brent McBride ran into the troop area of Contingency Operating Base Delta in Al Kut, Iraq, wearing shorts and no shirt.
McBride shouted for a medic and told the two staff sergeants on duty that he had shot his roommate, Army Sgt. Matthew Gallagher of North Falmouth.
"He's gone," McBride repeated several times to Staff Sgt. Albrent Young and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cox.
Young looked inside the trailer-like living space the two soldiers shared and saw Gallagher's lifeless body on the floor with a bullet wound through his head. Would he go to jail, McBride asked Cox. Would someone shoot him? Would the Army tell his father?
"He looked like he had the fight-or-flight look in him," Cox said in a sworn statement included in an investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID. "I was worried he was going to try to get to an M4 (carbine assault rifle) from the weapons stack."
McBride, 26, pleaded guilty in March 2012 to involuntary manslaughter, violation of a general order and dereliction of duty for shooting Gallagher, his roommate and friend. He said the shooting was an accident.
Gallagher's family believes it was a homicide. And they believe the Army shielded McBride, who was sentenced to 4½ years at Fort Leavenworth, but then had his sentence reduced to three years and is eligible for parole this spring.
The prosecution previously sought a murder charge, but an Army major who oversaw a pretrial hearing deemed the case lacked evidence to prove the charge. He recommended the involuntary manslaughter charge instead.
"I'm frankly disappointed in the Army that they didn't look at their own evidence," said Cheryl Ruggiero, Gallagher's mother. "Something happened in that room. ... Forensics don't lie."
Ruggiero will speak against McBride's release at a parole board hearing April 18 in Alexandria, Va.
The circumstances of Gallagher's shooting had been mysterious from the start. When family members were first informed of his death, it appeared he had been killed by enemy fire while performing a house sweep, according to Ruggiero. The Department of Defense then announced the incident was not combat-related.
The family was later told that Gallagher died from a single bullet to the head and that a fellow soldier was being held in the shooting.
The family's suspicions of how the case was handled have deepened over the past year as they reviewed conflicting testimony and spoke with soldiers who served with Gallagher and McBride. They also feel the prosecution did not pursue evidence that seemed to poke holes in McBride's explanation of the shooting.
In sworn statements, McBride said he accidentally shot Gallagher during a game of "quick-draw," in which the two would pull unloaded M9 pistols on each other to see who could draw on the other first.
McBride told CID special agent Gabriel Loarca the two were in their shared room when he saw Gallagher loading and unloading their pistols. 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 said he then pointed his pistol at Gallagher from about 6 feet away, not knowing if it was loaded, and pulled the trigger. A bullet from the 9 mm pistol tore through the front-left side of Gallagher's head and exited through the back-left side, an autopsy report states.
Although McBride told Loarca he was a distance away from Gallagher at the time of the shooting, the autopsy concluded the gun's muzzle was touching Gallagher's head.
"There was a contact gunshot wound to the left side of the head with a muzzle imprint abrasion and soot deposition on the surrounding skin, within the entrance wound and on the underlying skull," wrote Maj. Paul Uribe, an Army medical examiner.
During a 2011 pretrial hearing at Fort Hood, Uribe testified that if the gun's muzzle was even just a few inches away from Gallagher's head, there would be no muzzle abrasion. The autopsy lists Gallagher's death as a homicide.
McBride admitted that he incorrectly estimated the gun's distance from Gallagher at the time of the shooting in his statements to investigators, but has denied it was against his head, McBride's attorney, Stephen Scot Sikes, said in an interview last year.
When the CID agent found the pistols at the scene, one was loaded with the safety disengaged, but the other was not loaded and had the safety engaged, Loarca said at the pretrial hearing.
Loarca testified that the guns could have been kicked by soldiers who attempted to save Gallagher's life immediately after the shooting. But Jon Green, chief trainer for the Gun Owners' Action League in Northboro, told the Times there is a low probability of the safety on an Army-issued Beretta M9 pistol accidentally changing positions if dropped or kicked around.
Neither Sikes, nor C.J. McBride, McBride's father, responded to multiple calls and emails requesting comment for this story.
Sikes has portrayed McBride as Gallagher's best friend who had no motive to intentionally kill him.
At a pretrial hearing at Fort Hood in December 2011, two soldiers in the unit testified that during the brief time since McBride had joined the 1st Cavalry Division, he and Gallagher had became close friends, working out, eating meals and horsing around together.
But another soldier from the 1st Cavalry who served with Gallagher and McBride said their friendship was overstated in court.
"(McBride) was really protective over (Gallagher), which was weird," said the noncommissioned officer, whom the Times has agreed not to name.
The officer served with Gallagher for about two years. McBride, who joined the unit about 40 days before the shooting, quickly became attached to Gallagher, but remained distant from the rest of the unit. He seemed to disapprove of Gallagher spending time or speaking with anyone besides him, the soldier said.
"It was like, 'You're my friend and no one else's,'" he recalled. He spoke with Gallagher about what he called the seemingly odd attachment two days before his death, he added.
He said the two soldiers who testified about the relationship between Gallagher and McBride did not know them well because of their lower rank.
At the court-martial, Ruggiero looked side to side with a confused anger in her eyes when Loarca, the CID investigator, testified that McBride told him that he had spoken with Gallagher's family in the past.
Ruggiero never knew McBride's name until she found out he was accused of killing her son, she said.
Gallagher's father, Peter Gallagher, a retired Quincy police homicide detective, said recently he believes the military is covering up for McBride. "I've seen fixes in court before, but I've never seen anything like this in my life," he said in January, when the family learned McBride would be up for parole this spring.
Gallagher wrote to the parole board saying his review of the evidence presented at the court martial leaves him doubting McBride's narrative of his son's death.
"I have viewed the autopsy video of my son," Peter Gallagher wrote in the letter to the board. "It appears, according to the autopsy report, the 9 mm automatic handgun ... was placed against my son and discharged."
The Times sought comment from the public affairs office at Fort Hood, home of the 1st Cavalry Division, but did not receive a response. A spokeswoman at Fort Leavenworth declined to comment on the status of McBride's parole.
Jim Ruggiero, Gallagher's stepfather, also believes the military went easy on McBride.
"The Army's taking care of the kid," he said. "Plain and simple."