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Army Private Convicted of Murdering Civilian During U.S. Invasion

June 27, 1990

FORT ORD, Calif. (AP) _ An Army private was convicted of unpremeditated murder of a civilian during the invasion of Panama. Investigators said she was shot during a gunfight staged to conceal the loss of a military pistol.

Pfc. Mark McMonagle, 20, of Philadelphia, faced up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge at sentencing today by the military panel that convicted him after an hour’s deliberation Tuesday.

″They crucified him,″ said McMonagle’s mother, Patricia. ″They sent him to Panama to give up his life, and they do this to him. There wasn’t enough evidence to support the charges.″

Sgt. Paul Finsel Jr., 25, of Arkoma, Okla., also was charged with murder in the Jan. 25 shooting. His court-martial begins Friday.

McMonagle, of the 7th Light Infantry Division from Fort Ord, admitted to an investigator that he went to a Panama City bar and brothel with Finsel, who lost his handgun when the two went into a back room to evade military police.

Finsel convinced him that they should fake a firefight and say the gun was lost in the melee, McMonagle told the investigator. The two fired their rifles in the air, and soldiers nearby heard the shots and took up the fake firefight.

Leila Diaz de Panay, 50, was shot in the abdomen while taking a bath in the courtyard of her home. McMonagle said he had seen a shadow and fired six times.

″What they did was a terrible, terrible thing. It’s a hard thing to swallow,″ the prosecutor, Capt. Robin Johnson, said in her closing argument.

Defense attorney Capt. Norman Allen argued that Finsel was ″belligerent, frantic, agitated″ and in trouble and that McMonagle simply followed his lead.

″If he made a mistake, that’s a tragic mistake. ... We shouldn’t offer up McMonagle as a sacrifice. (Mrs. de Panay) wasn’t the only civilian who died,″ he said.

The defense also offered affidavits from Panamanians in the neighborhood who said they heard gunfire coming from an apartment building.

A third soldier, Pfc. Marc Gussen, 19, of Teaneck, N.J., who accompanied McMonagle and Finsel, testified for the prosecution.

He pleaded guilty in April to firearms, alcohol and obstruction charges and was sentenced to two years in prison, demotion and dishonorable discharge.

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