FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) -- A military panel on Wednesday decided not to discharge a soldier convicted of covering up the slayings of Iraqi citizens after he testified he needed military medical benefits because he is HIV positive and struggled with substance abuse.
After deliberating for about two hours Wednesday, the panel at Fort Campbell, Ky., sentenced Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard of Sweetwater, Tenn., to 180 days of confinement and a reduction in rank, ordered him restricted to the post and gave him a reprimand.
He smiled and hugged his lawyers after the sentencing. His attorney, Dan Marino, declined to comment following the sentencing.
Girouard was originally convicted of negligent homicide nearly five years ago at a court-martial at the installation on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. He served more than two years of his 10-year sentence before being released on parole and was discharged from the military.
Last year, a military appeals court overturned his convictions of negligent homicide and ordered a new sentencing hearing for his remaining convictions related to the cover-up of the 2006 killings of three Iraqi men. He remained convicted of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and violation of a general order, but was reinstated as a staff sergeant and brought back to Fort Campbell to await a new sentencing.
Two soldiers in his squad, Spc. William Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey Clagett, pleaded guilty to releasing the detainees and shooting them as they fled after a raid near Samarra, Iraq. They were both sentenced to 18 years in prison. A third soldier, Spc. Juston Graber, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for shooting one of the wounded detainees and was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Girouard has maintained he never ordered his soldiers to shoot the men, but he did testify that he tried to make it look like the soldiers shot the detainees in self-defense after they were attacked.
"It was a bad loyalty decision," Girouard testified Wednesday. "I was looking out for my guys."
After he got out of prison, he said he returned to his home in Sweetwater, where he struggled to find a well-paying job because he was convicted of a felony. He also started drinking and using cocaine, he testified, and learned that he was HIV positive, although he did not say how he contracted the disease.
His defense attorney urged the panel to consider the extenuating circumstances of his case and not give him a punishment that would hurt him further.
"The world has gotten the message that Staff Sgt. Girouard has been punished, that he has served his time," said defense attorney Dan Marino.
The military panel of four officers and three enlisted soldiers were given court transcripts from his original court-martial and heard from other soldiers that served with Girouard.
Defense attorneys emphasized the aggressive climate inside his company during the two day sentencing hearing. Platoons in the company kept a tally on a dry erase board of the number of kills each unit had during their deployment to Iraq between 2005 and 2006, Girouard said.
He said he didn't blame his commanders for his actions that day.
"I am not perfect. I lied," he said, saying he did it for his soldiers.
Military prosecutors reminded the panel that Girouard didn't just make a snap decision that was wrong, but repeatedly lied and continued the cover-up with the other soldiers for weeks. Military prosecutor Capt. Garth Beavon recommended that the panel sentence Girouard to four years in prison and give him a dishonorable discharge.
"The message you can send more than five years after this crime is this: The U.S. Army will not tolerate the cover-up of war crimes," said Beavon, who declined to comment on the case after sentence.
Even though the panel declined to discharge him, it remains unclear whether he will remain in the Army. During testimony, Girouard said that he faces other military charges for his substance abuse and he has asked for a general discharge that would allow him to receive medical benefits.