A military court is expected to rule Monday in the murder trial of a Jordanian soldier accused of killing three U.S. military trainers in a shooting spree at a Jordanian air base.
The high-profile case had caused some friction between allies Jordan and the United States. Jordan initially suggested the U.S. troops triggered the Nov. 4 shooting by disobeying gate procedures, a claim that was disputed by the U.S. and later withdrawn.
Among those killed was Kirksville, Mo., native Matthew C. Lewellen, 27. Remembered in Kirksville as an athlete and prom king, Sgt. 1st Class Lewellen had deployed to the region not long before the shooting.
Lewellen’s funeral drew large attendance from his hometown, as people stood on the side of the road for a 40-mile procession to a veterans cemetery in Jacksonville, Mo.
The defendant, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, pleaded “not guilty.” If convicted, he faces life in prison. In Jordan, that can mean a 20-year term, with good behavior.
Earlier this year, a Jordanian soldier convicted of killing seven Israeli schoolgirls in a 1997 shooting rampage was released after 20 years.
The U.S. soldiers were killed when their convoy came under fire at the entrance of an air base in southern Jordan.
In addition to Lewellen, the soldiers killed included 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe of Tucson, Arizona; and 27-year-old Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty of Kerrville, Texas.
Lewellen was part of the 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, which is on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
He had more than six years of service in the Army. This was his second overseas tour. His numerous service awards include the Bronze Star Medal. He attended Truman State University and was enrolled at the University of Kansas when he enlisted.
Relatives of the slain U.S. Army Green Berets attended parts of the month-long trial in Jordan’s capital of Amman.
Some of the family members criticized the legal proceedings and potential punishment as inadequate.
“We’ve felt discouraged and disappointed with every way Jordan has handled this case since the moment the bullets were first fired,” Moriarty’s sister, 31-year-old Melissa, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
“What is on the table is a measly 20-year ‘life' sentence, for taking three lives. It’s all rather depressing and painfully disappointing,” she said. “This isn’t going to provide some kind of closure, as some may think.”
Her father, Jim, and McEnroe’s father, Brian, previously said they had more faith in Jordan’s legal system after attending the trial but that questions remain.
Relatives of the soldiers asked why the judge decided not to show security camera footage of the shooting in court and chose not to put a surviving U.S. soldier on the stand, despite his willingness to testify.
The defendant and some of the gate guards testified that they heard what might have been a pistol shot coming from the direction of the U.S. convoy. The defendant said he opened fire because he feared the base was coming under attack. Some gate guards said they held their fire because they couldn’t determine the source of the sound.
The defendant has said he initially opened fire from inside a guard house where he was at the time, believing he was complying with rules of engagement. He has said he had “no intention of killing anyone” and felt no resentment toward Americans.
The bereaved families previously said that according to the surveillance footage, shown to them by U.S. law enforcement, the shooting lasted for six minutes. They said the video showed the defendant reloading and shooting at Americans who were waving their hands and yelling: “We’re Americans! We’re friendly.”
A relative of al-Tuwayha said the defendant, like other members of his clan, are loyal to God, king and country.
“People from our tribe, especially Marik, know nothing but the military, King Abdullah and God,” said Sayel Abu Tayeh. “That is all they have. Killing three souls is not a game to us.”
The judge said after a hearing last week that he will rule in the case Monday.