SYDNEY, N.S. — A Canadian soldier charged with fatally shooting a fellow reservist in Afghanistan was playing a game with a loaded weapon when the firearm went off and killed his comrade, the lead prosecutor in a court martial told a military panel Thursday.
Lt.-Cmdr. Robert Fetterley made the assertion in his opening statement to the panel hearing the case of Cpl. Matthew Wilcox of Glace Bay, N.S., who has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and negligently performing his military duty.
“He failed in his duty to make his weapons safe,” Fetterley told the court, set up in a cafeteria at the Victoria Park Garrison in Sydney.
It was the first time details of the prosecution’s case have emerged in the makeshift military courtroom.
Fetterley said the prosecution will show Wilcox did not follow proper safety procedures when he carried a loaded 9-millimetre handgun into a tent he shared with Cpl. Kevin Megeney of Stellarton, N.S.
Megeney was killed by a single shot to the chest at the NATO base in Kandahar on March 6, 2007.
Fetterley said the evidence will show Wilcox had loaded the weapon with a magazine, when the safety catch was not engaged, before the weapon went off “while playing a game in a tent.”
The prosecutor said he intends to prove “the death was caused by the accused and that he did this by the unlawful act of being careless with his 9-mm service pistol.”
The first witness at the court martial testified that Wilcox told him later in a conversation between them in Sydney in November or December 2007 that he was playing a game called quick draw when Megeney was shot.
Master Cpl. Kyle Keigan said the conversation took place either at the garrison in Sydney or at Wilcox’s home over drinks.
Keigan said he asked what happened and Wilcox told him “they began to play quick draw in the tent. His weapon went off. He didn’t know it was loaded at the time.”
Fetterley told the panel that the shooting occurred after Wilcox and members of his platoon finished a 12-hour shift at a guard post known as Entry Point 3.
Wilcox and Megeney were unloading their gear and were the only two people inside their tent when the shot rang out.
The military prosecutor said all soldiers within the sprawling NATO base are required to unload their weapons into ammunition barrels once they are off duty.
He described this act as a “basic military skill.”
Fetterley also noted that while soldiers are required to carry an unloaded firearm when they are off duty, the weapon’s magazine — the container that holds the bullets — must be removed.
Without the magazine, the 9-mm Browning handgun will not fire, even if there is a round in the chamber, Fetterley said.
He said the prosecution will build a circumstantial case that will prove Wilcox, 23, was the one who fired the weapon, much of the evidence based on comments made by Wilcox himself and witnesses at the scene of the shooting.
Wilcox’s own words will be used to show that he had made an “admission that he was careless with his handgun.”