- Navy prosecutors were surprised by their own witness in Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher’s war crimes trial when their witness, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, confessed to killing the prisoner of war the defendant is charged with murdering.
- Prosecutors are still pursuing murder charges against Gallagher, and now, prosecutors are reportedly weighing perjury charges against Scott.
- It’s unusual to see a prosecutor take steps to impugn their own witness, but this situation is highly unusual.
- “You’ve got to go after him,” one military justice expert told Business Insider. “You’ve got to try to explain that to the jury.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Navy prosecutors are considering perjury charges for a prosecution witness who confessed to killing the prisoner of war Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher is accused of murdering in shocking testimony last week, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday.
Gallagher has been charged with stabbing a captured teenage militant to death in Iraq in 2017, among other offenses. Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, who had testimonial immunity, told the court last Thursday that although Gallagher stabbed the prisoner, it was he that ended the boy’s life.
Scott testified that he asphyxiated the prisoner by plugging his breathing tube. The prosecution immediately accused him of lying, impugning its own witness.
“The prosecution got surprised. Something didn’t go right, and they got surprised by this witness,” retired Maj. Gen. John Altenburg, who has been involved in at least a thousand military trials, told Business Insider. “Normally, you do not impugn your own witness. But, the word ‘normally’ went out the window when this guy surprised them.”
Scott put the prosecution in an undoubtedly tight spot.
“Usually, when your own witness starts double dealing you, you’re just screwed,” Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and military judge, told BI. He previously explained that it is “foolish” for the prosecution to impugn its own witness, but in a case like this, there simply are not a lot of better alternatives.
“You’ve got to go after him. You put him on, and now he’s saying XYZ when you were expecting ABC. You’ve got to try to explain that to the jury.”
Navy prosecutors have decided to push forward with murder charges against Gallagher in spite of Scott’s testimony. “The credibility of a witness is for the jury to decide,” a Navy spokesman speaking on behalf of the prosecution told reporters.
That may not be the end of this fight.
Capt. Donald King, the Navy legal adviser to the commander overseeing the trial, notified Scott’s lawyer that the witness’ testimony contradicted “previous official statements – thus exposing him to prosecution,” the AP reported, adding that Navy officials stressed that Scott’s immunity was on the condition that he provide truthful testimony.
The Navy made clear to the AP that no decisions have yet been made.
This is a gamble for the Navy, but then all jury trials are.
“They’re taking a chance, no question about it,” Solis said. “There’s evidence in play that directly contradicts their case, and unfortunately that evidence was given by a prosecution witness. Their hope, their belief, or maybe just their wild guess is that the jury will see it their way.”