Captain Rogelio Roger Maynulet, stood at attention on Thursday as the head of the jury, Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Mixon, read the verdict of guilty of assault with the intent to commit voluntary manslaughter in the Iraqi man's death.

Fighting to maintain his composure as he took the stand in the sentencing hearing after the verdict, Maynulet thanked the six-member jury, which could sentence him to up to 10 years in prison and kick him out of the Army.

"I respect your decision," he said. "I think you did what you had to do." Asked if he would stay in the Army if given the chance, Maynulet replied confidently, "you bet".

Cold-blooded killing

The decorated former tank company commander's voice remained strong as he recounted the thoughts that had raced through his head before he aimed his gun at a wounded, unarmed Iraqi and shot him in the head on 21 May 2004.

Rights groups have accused the
US of heavy-handedness in Iraq

"We're trained, conditioned, to keep a distance," said Maynulet, looking down. "Maybe my mistake was that I projected myself into that Iraqi. I didn't want to be in his state - if I were, I would hope that someone would put me out of my misery."

Maynulet, 30, was leading his 1st Armored Division company on a mission near Kufa, south of Baghdad, when it was alerted that a car thought to be carrying what the Army called a high-level target was headed toward them.

No details of the mission have been released, but it has been widely reported the company was told Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led uprisings against US-led forced in Iraq last year, was believed to be in the car with a driver.

The company chased the vehicle and fired at it. A passenger who was slightly wounded fled and was later apprehended. The driver was dragged from the car with serious head injuries and pronounced untreatable by Maynulet's medic.

Maynulet, who has been lauded by his peers since the trial began on Monday as a promising officer, outstanding leader and dedicated soldier, then shot the driver.

The killing was filmed by a US drone surveillance aircraft.

Leniency plea

"I hope you can take into consideration my service, my attitude and my love for the Army before you make a decision," Maynulet told the jury.

In closing arguments earlier, prosecutor Major John Rothwell said that Maynulet "played God" when he shot the driver, whom the US military has only referred to as an unidentified paramilitary member. But relatives named him as Karim Hassan, 36, and said he worked for al-Sadr.

Rothwell argued that Maynulet, who was trained in first aid, should not have relied solely on the judgment of a medic who told Maynulet, "there's nothing I can do."

"Those five words were enough to make a life and death decision, and Maynulet chose to end a life," Rothwell said.

The jury is expected to deliver a sentence on Friday.