U.S. Soldier Acquitted of Murder; Guilty of Lesser Charges
FORT ORD, Calif. (AP) _ An Army sergeant was acquitted of murdering a civilian during the closing days of the U.S. invasion of Panama but was convicted of other offenses and sentenced to 20 months in prison.
Paul Finsel Jr., 25, of Arkoma, Okla., was found guilty Saturday of offenses including obstruction, conspiracy and loss of a military weapon.
He was one of three soldiers charged in the slaying of Leila Diaz de Panay, 50, who was shot to death Jan. 25 while taking a bath outside her Panama City home.
Investigators said she was slain during a gunfight staged by U.S. soldiers to conceal Finsel’s loss of his pistol at a brothel.
Col. Kenneth Mitchell, the military judge who decided the case, also busted Finsel down to private and gave him a bad-conduct discharge.
Last week, Pfc. Mark McMonagle, 20, of Philadelphia, was convicted of unpremeditated murder and drew seven years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Pfc. Marc Gussen, 19, of Teaneck, N.J., pleaded guilty to disobeying orders and obstruction April 23 and received two years in prison and dishonorable discharge.
McMonagle admitted to an investigator that he went to a 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 took up the fake firefight.
At one point, McMonagle said, he had seen a shadow in the woman’s courtyard and fired six times.
The shooting took place during the last days of the invasion that overthrew Gen. Manuel Noriega.