HANAU, Germany — A military policeman accused of refusing to return to Iraq — and whose replacement was killed by a roadside bomb — was found guilty Thursday of missing movement and assault consummated by battery.

A panel of two officers, a warrant officer and three enlisted sentenced Spc. Brian J. Sprague of the 127th Military Police Company to three months of hard labor without confinement and forfeiture of $250 a month for four months, and reduced him to the rank of private first class.

Sprague faced up to a year in confinement and a bad-conduct discharge. The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour.

Sprague’s conviction on the assault charge, which stemmed from an incident in which he grabbed his wife’s wrist during an argument and tried to force her onto a couch, triggers the so-called Lautenberg Amendment.

The law effectively mandates the discharge of soldiers convicted of domestic violence and prohibits them from ever owning or even holding a gun.

Sprague’s wife, Loren, sat behind her husband and cried silently after the panel delivered the verdict. While testifying, she tried to play down the fight they had Aug. 17, 2007, while Sprague was back from Iraq on emergency leave.

“The government concedes there was no bruising” or bleeding or physical harm to Loren Sprague, trial attorney Capt. Todd Lindquist said in his closing argument. But, he said, there was “offensive touching” and that is assault.

The charge of missing movement was, in the military’s eyes, the greater of the two offenses.

Sprague deployed with the 127th to Iraq in November 2006 and left the war zone in late July 2007 to attend to family matters in Germany, where his wife and three young children remained.

The soldier who took Sprague’s place in Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb Aug. 4, 2007. There was widespread resentment of Sprague after the death, according to defense witnesses.

“I know my husband has a lot of animosity toward him,” testified Barbara Dierker, whose husband was in Iraq with the 127th when the soldier was killed. She admitted she’d told Loren Sprague that Spc. Sprague should hav been killed instead, and the view was held by many of the soldiers who remained in Iraq.

On Aug. 30, when Sprague was supposed to return to Iraq, he refused. He’d earlier told the rear detachment commander that he “didn’t think he’d get a fair shake” with the soldiers, and told his battalion commander that he felt threatened, according to Capt. Jocelyn Stewart, one of his two defense lawyers.

Lindquist said Sprague “intentionally mischaracterized” other soldiers’ feelings about him “to avoid going back to Iraq.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now