Semrau acquitted of murder in battlefield death
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, July 19, 2010 9:47PM EDT
Canadian Forces Capt. Robert Semrau has been found not guilty of second degree murder and attempted murder in a battlefield death in Afghanistan. But he has been found guilty of disgraceful conduct.
The military panel deciding the fate of the captain announced its decision Monday afternoon, after deliberating since Saturday afternoon.
CTV's Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife, reporting from the Gatineau, Que. court room, says both Semrau and his wife showed no reaction to the verdict.
"There was no expression at all on either Capt. Semrau or his wife. He was deadpanned. There was just a sort of stillness in the court, a very eerie kind of stillness in the court," Fife told CTV News Channel shortly after the verdict came down.
Semrau, 36, had been accused of firing two rounds from his rifle into a dying Taliban fighter in Helmand province in October 2008. The trial heard that Semrau told fellow officers after the shooting that he wanted to put the dying enemy fighter out of his misery.
Bill Semrau, the captain's brother, said the family had been hopeful that all of the charges would be cleared.
"As a family, we're disappointed in the verdict," Bill Semrau told reporters outside the court. "We've always believed that he'd done nothing wrong."
He added that the captain would be spending time with his wife and children this week, ahead of his sentencing.
The sentence will be handed down next Monday. Capt. Semrau could face five years in jail or dismissal from the Armed Forces.
Semrau never testified during his four-month trial, and his lawyer presented no evidence.
Semrau is believed to have been the first Canadian soldier charged with a battlefield murder. He had pleaded not guilty to the four charges.
During the court martial proceedings, witnesses testified that the insurgent was badly injured following an intense fire fight between Canadian and Afghan forces against the Taliban.
The insurgent had been hit by a bullet from a U.S. helicopter gunship. Witnesses described devastating injuries, including a severed leg, and a gaping hole in his abdomen that exposed his intestines.
One Afghan army captain, who was on the patrol with Semrau, testified the insurgent was "98 per cent dead" when he was found.
The trial was told that Semrau fired two rounds from his rifle into the dying man and that he'd told fellow officers after the shooting that he simply wanted to put a wounded and dying enemy fighter out of his misery.
The body was never recovered.
Semrau's lawyer had argued that the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, saying the fog of war made it impossible to get an accurate picture of what happened on that day.
Lawyer and retired Col. Michel Drapeau told CTV News proving murder beyond a reasonable doubt is "exceedingly difficult, more so when you don't have a body."
The prosecution argued that mercy killing was not a defence.
"We proved the fact that he shot and wounded an unarmed man, that's what we proved beyond a reasonable doubt," prosecutor Lt.-Col. Mario Leaville said outside court. "Why they reached the verdict they reached, I cannot say."
Retired Maj.-Gen Lewis Mackenzie told CTV News Channel that he personally was delighted with the verdict.
"I'm very pleased about the three charges and I'll keep my fingers crossed that discreditable conduct – which can range from something like not shaving in the morning to something a lot more serious – that the sentencing will be modest," he said.
Mackenzie noted that mercy killings have likely always taken place on battlefields, but because of the high profile of this case, the Canadian military's rules of engagement will now probably have to be altered.
"But let's face it: nobody but nobody is ever going to say mercy killing is okay. It's something that's between a soldier and his conscience on the battlefield. Anybody that tries to put that in fine print is not going to succeed," Mackenzie said.