GIESSEN, Germany — A U.S. soldier has been acquitted by a U.S. Army panel in the shooting death of a 6-year-old boy in Kosovo.
Nicholas Young, who was 19 and serving as a peacekeeper at the time of the accidental shooting, was on trial on charges of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty following the death of the ethnic Albanian boy.
He was facing up to 3 1/2 years in prison, dishonourable discharge, reduction in rank to private and forfeiture of all pay and allowances if convicted by the panel.
Young burst into tears and threw his arms around his mother as he left the courtroom.
Young was part of a group of U.S. Army soldiers visiting the Gornja Slatina school in the town of Cerkes Sadorina when his M-249 squad automatic weapon discharged.
Rounds from the machine gun struck Gentrit Rexhepi in the chest and arm. The boy later died at Camp Bondsteel, where Army doctors tried to save his life.
Young's unit, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery, "sponsored" the school and was on a goodwill mission at the time of the incident, the Army said, getting the school grounds ready for the upcoming school year.
At the time, Army officials described the incident as an accidental shooting.
The Defence counsel did not dispute that Young had fired the shots that killed the child. They argued YoungЁ€s superiors were at fault in giving him a machine gun that he had not been properly trained to use.
They also added that Young suffered severe learning difficulties.
One of his lawyers said he was "an accident waiting to happen" since he was not qualified to use the M-249 SAW machine gun he was assigned.
The prosecution said Young let children play with his weapon and pulled the trigger to see if the safety catch was on.
U.S. Army spokeswoman Hilde Patton said: "He's a free man. There may still be some paperwork to do but he was found not guilty on all charges and will be heading back to his unit."