A Massachusetts woman whose son was shot and killed in Iraq in what was described in court as a game of “quick draw” gone bad said she is angry and stunned that the killer is up for parole just 10 months after being sentenced to four and a half years in jail.
Cheryl Ruggiero of Falmouth, Mass., said she learned that the original sentence was dropped to three years on appeal after she received notice of the upcoming hearing. Her son, Army Sgt. Matthew Gallagher, died in June 2011 after being shot in the head by Army Sgt. Brent McBride in the room they shared in Iraq.
“None of us received a letter when his sentence was reduced … none of us,” Ruggiero said. “We don’t understand why we were not told. Not my husband, Matt’s father, or Katy, his widow -- none of us.”
Ruggiero said she and her daughter will write up victim impact statements in hopes the parole board meeting in February will reject McBride’s parole bid. The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5 before the Clemency and Parole Board in Arlington, Va.
She said the family will also appear in person to testify before the board if they’re allowed.
“I didn’t think four and a half years was long enough,” she said, “but to be commuted to three years and not even notify his family?”
McBride will not appear before the parole board in person, according to Army spokesman Maj. S. Justiin Platt.
Gallagher and McBride were with the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, at Al Kut, Iraq, at the time of the shooting. Witnesses told Army investigators in Iraq that the two men had been caught playing quick draw previously, and had been told to stop. At the time of the shooting, only McBride and Gallagher were in their room.
Testimony introduced at Fort Hood, Texas, last March, was sometimes contradictory. McBride initially claimed he was about six feet from Gallagher when he pointed and fired. Forensic evidence showed he was close enough for the discharge weapon to leave a muzzle imprint abrasion and powder marks around the wound.
According to reports of the trial, McBride’s defense attorney, Scot Sikes, said his client erred in saying he was six feet from Gallagher because he misunderstood the initial investigator’s question.
Investigators also found two pistols in the room. One was loaded and the other was not, but they were not able to determine for certain which gun belonged to which man. Neither McBride nor Gallagher were issued sidearms, according to reports.
In exchange for the Army not charging him with murder, McBride agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, dereliction of duty, and violating a general order. The deal also stipulated that he would be sentenced to no more than seven years, according to reports at the time. McBride has been incarcerated at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since his conviction.
Sikes did not respond to Military.com’s request for an interview.
Kate Buzicky, the Army judge advocate who prosecuted McBride, declined to comment on McBride’s scheduled parole hearing.
Ruggiero said the failure to notify her that her son’s killer's sentence was being appealed is the second time the Army has come up short in its communications with her. The officer who informed the family of her son’s shooting death described it as occurring “in a housing area.” Ruggiero said she thought that meant he was killed by hostile fire “in a housing sweep.”
She was contacted by the Army again after news outlets carried stories based on interviews with her and her son’s widow.
Ruggiero said she needs to attend the parole hearing in order to make the case for keeping McBride in jail. As with the court case last March, McBride will be able to speak for himself while her son is “six feet under.”
Her son’s widow, however, will not be there.
“She is content with writing her victim impact statement,” Ruggiero said. “She is angry but has moved on.”