A federal jury in New York rendered a split verdict, finding
Wilfredo Santiago guilty of one count of making false statements but
acquitting him of a second.
The unusual case wound its way from a U.S. base in Iraq to a
civilian courtroom in Manhattan more than six years after the
shooting, following a series of bureaucratic delays within the
military that drew scathing criticism from the trial judge, Colleen
Prosecutors in New York secured an indictment in 2013, just 10 days
before the five-year statute of limitations was set to expire and
years after Santiago left the Marines.
But as a result of the military's delays, which McMahon called a
deliberate effort by Marine lawyers to avoid prosecuting an
embarrassing case, the lone witness to the shooting, an Iraqi
translator known as “Hollywood,” could no longer be found.
His disappearance led McMahon to throw out an assault charge against
Santiago in December, leaving him charged solely with lying to
investigators about his involvement. The injured corpsman, Michael
Carpeso, cannot recall many details about the shooting.
The federal case was brought under the Military Extraterritorial
Jurisdiction Act, which permits the Justice Department to charge
American contractors or other civilians who commit crimes at
overseas military bases.
It appears to be the first time civilian prosecutors have charged a
former serviceman under the law with a crime that occurred while he
was still active.
“The biggest injustice in this case was bringing it in the first
place,” said Philip Weinstein, one of Santiago’s lawyers, after the
verdict. “This happened six-and-a-half years ago.”
Santiago, Carpeso and Hollywood were inside a trailer on Jan. 26,
2008, when Santiago's gun went off, sending a bullet into Carpeso's
Prosecutors accused Santiago of telling investigators on two
occasions that he only heard a gunshot before later admitting his
gun fired the shot.
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His defense lawyers argued that the statements were not false and
that he was in shock. They also said the initial investigator, who
spoke with Santiago the day after the shooting, failed to press him
for additional detail.
Santiago was acquitted of lying during the first meeting but
convicted in connection with a second interview.
He faces a maximum of five years in prison at his October
sentencing, although a lesser sentence appears likely.
McMahon has made little secret of her distaste for the case, sharply
rebuking the Marines for failing to court-martial Santiago while he
remained under military jurisdiction.
“It is obvious that they did not do what had to be done in order to
court-martial Santiago because they did not want to,” she wrote in a
caustic opinion in December.
In a statement on Monday, a Marine spokesman said the case “was an
anomaly and does not reflect the current practice of law within the
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Dan Grebler)
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