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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2009

Green Beret cleared of murdering Afghan man


FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A military jury found a veteran Green Beret from Tecumseh, Mich., not guilty yesterday of premeditated murder and mutilation in the death of an unidentified Afghan man who may have been a Taliban insurgent.

Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Joseph Newell, 39, was charged in the March, 2008, shooting in Afghanistan's Helmand province. He also was charged with cutting off the man's ear, which a prosecutor displayed to jurors as the trial opened last week.

The jury deliberated for about four hours yesterday before they returned the verdict. As it was read, Sergeant Newell lowered his head into his hands and appeared to weep. He had faced a life sentence if convicted of premeditated murder.

"He just wants to enjoy his family without anything hanging over his head," Todd Conormon, Sergeant Newell's civilian defense lawyer, said. "He went through a very challenging deployment in perhaps one of the most dangerous places on earth and because of these charges, he never has had a chance to really come home. That starts today."

As the jurors left the courtroom, Sergeant Newell climbed over the railing between the table and spectators and hugged his family, starting with his wife, Tina.

"Our family has gone through misery for a year," said Bob Feldkamp, the sergeant's stepfather. "I knew from the start he was not guilty."

Sergeant Newell testified this week he shot the unidentified man twice after the man lunged at him during questioning.

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