Friday, October 7, 2011
LAS VEGAS A Las Vegas jury found a San Diego-based Navy SEAL guilty of multiple federal weapons charges on Friday. The illegal firearms in the case include 30 assault rifles that were likely smuggled from Iraq.
Jurors found Petty Officer First Class Nicholas Bickle guilty on all but two of the 15 counts he faced. The charges include dealing in firearms without a license, illegally possessing and transferring machine guns, and distributing explosives to someone without a license.
After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said that this case demonstrates that no one is above the law.
“Military members who unlawfully possess or sell military weapons, equipment, and explosives within the United States will be held fully accountable for their actions," Bogden said in a statement.
Statement From U.S. Attorney
Over the course of the two-and-a-half week trial, the prosecution used evidence from Bickle's cell phone, camera, and a storage locker rented in his name to convince the jury that he was the leader of a conspiracy to traffic weapons from Iraq to the Southwestern United States.
Two Las Vegas men and one man from Colorado were also charged in the case. The three took plea deals this winter and implicated Bickle.
The prosecution suggested that Bickle abused his position as a Navy SEAL to smuggle dozens of military-grade weapons out of Iraq while he was deployed there. But he was not charged with that crime.
Prosecutors told the jury during closing arguments on Wednesday that Bickle would still be guilty of the charges even if an "AK-47 fairy" had magically transported the weapons out of Iraq.
"He is still guilty because he is charged with what he did with the weapons once they were here," Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Smith told the jury.
Throughout the course of the trial, 34-year old Bickle appeared in court wearing his formal Navy uniform and many medals.
'It's unthinkable that someone who has faced those firearms in combat in Iraq would knowingly sell them to criminals in the United States," said Thomas Chittum, who heads ATF in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the defense expressed disappointment with the verdict.
"We think there was a lot of circumstantial evidence that have reasonable interpretations," said James Pokorny, Bickle's attorney after the trial.
The lawyer argued that the case hinged on untrustworthy testimony from the men who took plea deals in the case.
"It's difficult for us to conceive how a case that is built so much on lies, and drug abuse, and testimony of convicted felons, drug runners and gun runners could support a finding of guilty," Pokorny said.
The defense attorney said he will appeal the verdict.
Federal Judge Roger Hunt ruled Bickle would be allowed to remain free in San Diego until his sentencing date in January. He will be placed under supervision.
He faces the possibility of decades in prison.