An Army officer charged with murdering a driver for militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr in Iraq told a fellow officer that the man was so badly wounded he shot him out of compassion, a U.S. military court heard Wednesday.
At a hearing to determine whether Capt. Rogelio Maynulet should be court-martialed, 1st Lt. Colin Cremin testified that after the May 21 shooting near Kufa, south of Baghdad, he asked Maynulet what happened.
Maynulet said he had been leading a 1st Armored Division patrol when it came across a BMW sedan believed to be carrying militiamen loyal to Sadr and a chase ensued. U.S. soldiers fired at the vehicle, wounding both the driver and the passenger.
Maynulet said that when a medic pulled the driver out of the car, it was clear the man had suffered critical injuries, with part of his skull blown away, the prosecutor, Capt. Daniel Sennott said, reading a statement Cremin made in August.
The medic "said nothing could be done for him," Sennott said, addressing Cremin. "At that point, Captain Maynulet told you he stepped back and shot him in the base of the neck or back of the head."
Cremin confirmed making that statement and added that Maynulet told him there had been no alternative. "It was something he didn't want to do, but it was the compassionate response," Cremin testified. "It was definitely the humane response."
Cremin, who was helping coordinate the mission from company headquarters, said there had also been no chance of sending a helicopter to rescue the driver. "It would have compromised the lives of the soldiers involved in that mission," he testified.
Evidence was presented at the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury session, so that an Army investigator could decide whether to court-martial Maynulet on charges of murder and dereliction of duty. He has denied both charges.
Maynulet's wife, Brooke, an Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot, sat behind her husband during the hearing.
Prosecutors suggested that Maynulet, 29, habitually broke the military's rules of engagement in Iraq when it suited him. They questioned several witnesses about a nonregulation weapon he carried and an incident in which he was reprimanded for breaking into an Iraqi police station to retrieve a civilian contractor's identification card he believed had been inappropriately confiscated.
However, most of the eight witnesses who testified Wednesday described Maynulet, a Chicago native, as an outstanding officer who was cool under fire and maintained close ties to the Iraqi community.
A battalion intelligence officer, Capt. Jeremy Dovos, testified that Maynulet was able to use the trust he had fostered among Iraqis to gather information leading to an operation that netted "1,000 fedayeen," as members of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's militia were known.
Cremin described as "quite consistent with his character" an incident in which Maynulet risked his life under fire to rescue an injured Iraqi woman from a car and bring her to safety.
The driver Maynulet is accused of killing was identified by relatives as Karim Hassan, 36.
A military drone aircraft taped the killing, and that recording was introduced into evidence Wednesday. However, reporters were told to leave the courtroom as it was viewed because the hearing officer, Maj. Michael J. Fadden, said it might reveal the capabilities of U.S. technology in Iraq.
Maynulet's command of his tank company was suspended May 25, but he remains with his unit, serving on the division's planning staff.