Baghdad A military panel on Friday acquitted U.S. Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval on charges he killed two unarmed Iraqis, but it convicted him of planting evidence on one of the men in an attempt to cover up the shooting.
Sandoval, 22, of Laredo, Texas, had faced five charges in the April and May deaths of two unidentified men.
He was found not guilty of the two murder charges, but the panel decided he had placed a spool of detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.
Lawyers for Sandoval said he should be sentenced only for misplacement of public or private property, which carries no more than six months in prison.
Prosecutors argued he should be punished for obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. He will be sentenced today.
"Anyone who has been charged with murder for their first kill on the battlefield on the order of his superior and is found not guilty is happy," Capt. Craig Drummond, a defense attorney, said outside court after the verdict. "Today what the panel concluded was justice. This soldier is not guilty."
During the two-day court-martial, Sandoval's colleagues testified they were following orders when they shot the men during two separate incidents on April 27 and May 11.
Spc. Alexander Flores of Hayward, Calif., who was in the same squad as Sandoval on the day of the April killing, testified they were acting on the orders of their platoon leader who said the suspect was "our guy" and ordered them to "move in," which they interpreted as "take the target out."