WIESBADEN ARMY AIRFIELD, Germany — An Army captain frequently described as the best commander in his battalion was found guilty Thursday of assault in the killing in May of a wounded Iraqi man.

Capt. Roger Maynulet, of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment of the 1st Armored Division, was convicted of assault with the intent to commit voluntary manslaughter. He was convicted of shooting the reputed driver for an aide to a firebrand Shiite cleric. Media reports identified the victim as driver Karim Hassan Abed Ali al-Haleji, but the court referred to him as “a paramilitary member.”

The six-member panel at his court-martial at Wiesbaden Army Airfield deliberated for about 2½ hours after a trial lasting 3½ days. At least four of the panel members had to agree on the verdict.

At the trial, Maynulet, 30, was charged with a more severe crime: assault with intent to commit murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ confinement. Panel members convicted him on a “lesser included” offense. The penalty for that ranges from a letter of reprimand to 10 years’ confinement. The verdict indicates that the panel believed Maynulet intended to kill the Iraqi man, but that the circumstances he was facing decreased the severity of the crime because he acted in a moment of “passion.”

Maynulet’s shooting of al-Haleji was captured on the videotape of an unmanned drone monitoring the mission. Maynulet did not report the shooting as a mercy killing and he made no report to his superiors other than one Iraqi was killed in action.

He later told soldiers who had been at the scene that he had shot the man to “put him out of his misery,” according to testimony.

Earlier on Thursday, during closing arguments, military prosecutors said Maynulet shot al-Haleji, not out of mercy, but because the gravely wounded man was an inconvenience.

“The accused played God,” Maj. John Rothwell told the panel.

“The bottom line is this was not a mercy killing,” Rothwell said. “The accused was too busy. He had too much to do, so the mercy killing was created to cover his acts.”

But Capt. Will Helixon, Maynulet’s lead defense lawyer, called that assertion “preposterous.”

“Captain Maynulet was a battlefield commander faced with a decision no human being should ever be faced with,” Helixon said. “He acted on his instinct, on his honor and integrity and what he thought was proper. It was compassion.”

Al-Haleji was driving a BMW that Maynulet’s unit was ordered to capture or destroy because of a supposed “high-value target” inside. Maynulet’s unit chased the BMW through a Kufa neighborhood, fired at it, and it crashed into a wall. Al-Haleji suffered head wounds from the U.S. fire.

The trial included testimony that the senior medic at the scene was too upset by al-Haleji’s injuries to treat him and told Maynulet he was about to die. The medic’s testimony also showed that he had lied at previous legal proceedings to protect himself and Maynulet from prosecution.

Testimony also showed one sergeant burned all investigative statements that unit members had made about the incident.

Among the disputed facts in the case was whether al-Haleji was alive when Maynulet shot him, but the panel, by its verdict, showed it believed he was.

Mercy killing is not a legal defense to the charge and is prohibited by laws of war, Helixon conceded in his closing arguments. But mercy could be taken into account in deciding the verdict, Helixon told the panel.

“You have to consider his motive because that’s what the public would see, that’s what the unit would see,” Helixon said.

Helixon also reminded the jury that his client’s valor and character — attested to repeatedly by witnesses — could be sufficient to find reasonable doubt that he had committed a crime.

But the prosecutor, Rothwell, told the panel: “The government is not here to argue that Captain Maynulet isn’t a good officer. Good officers make bad calls. … And good officers must be held accountable when they do wrong.”

Ask yourselves, Rothwell told the panel in closing arguments, “If this driver were an American soldier, would the accused have played God with him, too?”

The panel adjourned about 5 p.m. Thursday after hearing officers and others again attest to Maynulet’s sterling character. They related stories of unusual valor and said that Maynulet had showed unusual compassion both for his men and the Iraqi people.

Then his wife took the stand.

Brooke Maynulet, a former Black Hawk pilot who has been married to Maynulet for eight years, told the panel she resigned her commission in February primarily because of her husband’s prosecution.

“I thought it would be difficult to go to work for the same organization that convicted my husband of a felony,” she said.

But her husband, she said, still had not soured on the Army and would continue to serve if he could.

“He’s the Army’s biggest cheerleader,” she said.

Maynulet was the last to address the panel Thursday that was deciding his fate.

He reflected on what he was thinking at the time of the shooting.

“He was the enemy. There’s no doubt about it,” Maynulet said. “When they are out of battle, they are still people. We’re trained and conditioned to kind of distance ourselves — they’re the enemy.

“Maybe my mistake was I knew the Iraqi people. I may have projected myself onto that Iraqi. I didn’t want to be in his position.”

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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