Judge to take six weeks to decide fate of soldier in Afghan death case

It’s now up to a military judge to decide if Capt. Robert Semrau gets busted down in rank with a hard slap on the wrist, or gets booted from the Canadian Forces and thrown in jail.

Capt. Robert Semrau arrives to court for the start of sentencing argument  in his court martial in Gatineau. Que.

Capt. Robert Semrau arrives to court for the start of sentencing argument in his court martial in Gatineau. Que.

GATINEAU, Que. — It’s now up to a military judge to decide if Capt. Robert Semrau gets busted down in rank with a hard slap on the wrist, or gets booted from the Canadian Forces and thrown in jail.

Lt.-Col. Jean-Guy Perron will take until Sept. 9 to mull arguments by both the prosecution and defence before delivering a sentence.

Military prosecutors say Semrau should be dismissed in disgrace from the Canadian Forces and spend two years, less a day, in jail for shooting an unarmed and badly wounded enemy fighter in Afghanistan .

But Semrau’s lawyer says a reduction in rank and a severe reprimand are more fitting punishments.

Semrau was convicted last week of disgraceful conduct in the shooting and a military court is hearing final arguments on sentencing.

Prosecutor Lt.-Col. Mario Leveillee said Semrau let the Canadian Forces down when he fired two rounds into an insurgent who had been strafed by a U.S. gunship helicopter.

Leveillee questioned whether the public would feel differently had Semrau shot a grievously wounded Canadian soldier in an act of mercy, or if an insurgent had done the same for a Canadian soldier.

“Only Capt. Semrau knows what his motivation was,” Leveillee said.

“But whatever his motivations, it was a shockingly inappropriate choice.”

Leveillee raised the spectre of the Somalia affair of the 1990s, saying all it takes is an act like Semrau’s to bring back memories of Canadian soldiers beating a Somali teen to death.

Semrau’s conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and dismissal from the military.

He was also charged with second-degree and attempted murder, but the court martial panel found him not guilty of those charges as well as not guilty on a Defence Act charge of negligent performance of a military duty.

Over the four-month trial, which included time in Afghanistan, the court heard from a dozen witnesses. The testimony included descriptions of what Semrau was alleged to have said in the moments after he fired two rounds in the direction of a badly wounded insurgent.

The man had been strafed by a U.S. helicopter gunship and witnesses described devastating injuries, including a severed leg and a gaping hole in his abdomen.

At the time of the 2006 shooting, the 36-year-old soldier was part of a team of Canadian soldiers assigned to the Afghanistan National Army as mentors.