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FORT STEWART, Ga. -- A Georgia soldier was found guilty Tuesday of killing his two Army roommates in 2010 at a U.S. base camp in Iraq, where prosecutors said he opened fire hours after complaining that the victims had let their room get too messy.
A court-martial found Spc. Neftaly Platero guilty of two counts of premeditated murder and one count of attempted premeditated murder after a weeklong trial. The verdict was reached Tuesday by a five-member jury of Army officers and noncommissioned officers after 90 minutes of deliberations.
"We're happy that he was found guilty," said Desiree Carrillo, mother of one of the slain soldiers, 20-year-old Spc. John Carrillo Jr. "We'll never get our son back. It's some closure, but he's still gone."
The sentencing phase of the case was scheduled to resume Wednesday. Platero faces an automatic sentence of life in prison, but the jury must decide whether he will ever be eligible for parole. Fort Stewart commanders last year decided not to pursue the death penalty in Platero's case.
Prosecutors said the 34-year-old soldier from Kingwood, Texas, opened fire on his roommates as they readied for bed at Camp Fallujah on Sept. 23, 2010. Pfc. Gebrah Noonan was fatally shot in the side and the back after having just returned to the room from a shower. Carrillo was felled by the gunfire while rummaging through his backpack.
"He waited for the perfect opportunity to squeeze off these rounds and made a choice to kill his roommates," Capt. Frank Kostik, an Army prosecutor, told the jury in his closing argument earlier Tuesday.
Platero didn't testify during his trial and members of his family declined to comment after the verdict.
His defense attorney, Guy Womack, had argued that Army investigators rushed to focus on Platero as their only suspect even after forensic evidence failed to point to him as the shooter. Eighteen spent bullet casings were recovered from the room, and several matched Platero's assault rifle. But skin samples taken from his right hand soon after the shootings tested negative for gunshot residue.
"The government lost their objectivity at the very start," Womack said in his closing arguments. He declined to comment on the verdict after court concluded for the day, saying he preferred to wait until the jury had decided on a sentence.
A fourth soldier who shared the room, Spc. Jeffrey Shonk, survived after a bullet creased his skull while he was lying on his bunk. But he testified that he was unable to remember the shootings, including who pulled the trigger. Noonan, 26, of Watertown, Conn., and Carrillo, 20, of Stockton, Calif., were both dead by the time help arrived.
No one else witnessed the shootings. Staff Sgt. Jhamaal Martin, who testified he was one of the first to rush into the room, said Shonk was able to speak and told him: "Platero shot us." None of the medics who treated the wounded soldier could recall him speaking. Platero's defense attorneys insisted Martin's account was a fabrication.
The sentencing phase of the trial began Tuesday afternoon with prosecutors calling the victims' loved ones and Army colleagues to testify about how they had been devastated by the killings.
Noonan's father, William Noonan, said he dreamed of his son trying to tell him something, but being unable to speak, only to find out the next day that he had been killed. The soldier's mother, Ling Noonan, told the jury it's hard for her to remember her slain son in happier times.
"The picture that's in my head, that I'll never get out of my head, is Gebrah in the casket," the soldier's mother said.
One soldier who served alongside Noonan and Carrillo cried on the witness stand as he described the memorial service held for his two colleagues in Iraq. And the officer in charge of the base where the killings occurred said his troops remained on edge throughout the rest of their deployment.
"This attack devastated the bonds of trust we had with each other," Lt. Col. Eric Larson said. "It never occurred to me we would have a rogue soldier inside our own formations."