FORT STEWART, Ga. – A soldier was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for the 2010 slayings of two Army roommates, both shot at a U.S. base camp in Iraq hours after the suspect complained their room was too messy.
A military jury at Fort Stewart spent just an hour deliberating before returning with a sentence for Army Spc. Neftaly Platero, 34, of Kingwood, Texas. The same court-martial convicted him Tuesday of premeditated murder in the killings of Pfc. Gebrah Noonan of Watertown, Conn., and Spc. John Carrillo Jr. of Stockton, Calif.
Under military law, premeditated murder carries a minimum life sentence. The only decision for jurors was whether to deny Platero the possibility of parole. Commanders at Fort Stewart, where all three soldiers served in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, decided last year not to seek the death penalty.
William Noonan, the father of one of the slain soldiers, said Wednesday he would have preferred the death penalty for Platero but got some solace that jurors decided he should never be freed from prison.
"I couldn't have lived with anything else," Noonan's father said. "My fear was these boys would be dishonored by some watered-down sentence. Anything other than the maximum would have been an insult."
Platero's defense attorney, Guy Womack, said the case would get an automatic appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
During the weeklong trial, he argued Army investigators rushed to focus on Platero as their only suspect and ignored forensic evidence that case doubt on him as the shooter. Lab tests found no gunshot residue on skin samples taken from Platero's hands hours after the attack.
"I think they felt they had to convict someone and there was only one person sitting there," Womack said of the jury. "I'm not saying they had some kind of agenda. I think they were doing their best. But it was surprising to me that they basically ignored what I thought was exculpatory scientific evidence."
The soldiers were shot multiple times by an assault rifle as they prepared for bed in their barracks room at Camp Fallujah on Sept. 23, 2010. Prosecutors said Noonan, 26, had just returned from a shower when the shooting began. Noonan, 20, was kneeling as he rummaged through his backpack as 18 shots were fired.
A third soldier, Spc. Jeffrey Shonk, was also shot in the leg and the forehead while lying on his bunk. He survived but testified that he can't remember the shootings — including who pulled the trigger.
Prosecutors said Platero was angry at his roommates after he complained about their room to superiors, who ordered all four roommates — including Platero — to submit to extra inspections.
No one else witnessed the shootings, but one soldier insisted Shonk told him minutes after the attack: "Platero shot us." Defense attorneys said that account was a fabrication.
In addition to his prison sentence, Platero will receive a dishonorable discharge, be reduced in rank to private and forfeit all pay and military benefits.