GIESSEN, Germany — A U.S. soldier burst into tears when a military panel cleared him Tuesday of the accidental shooting death of a 6-year-old boy in Kosovo, closing a trial that threatened to strain relations between U.S. troops and ethnic Albanians.
Pfc. Nicholas Young of Sacramento, who was 19 at the time of the July 10 shooting, was cleared of charges of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. He had been serving as a peacekeeper in Kosovo.
A neuropsychologist testified that Young suffered from a severe learning disability--providing what appeared to be the most convincing evidence that the soldier's superiors should not have allowed him to carry the automatic weapon he was given in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic.
"I think it's fair to say that our client and his mother are pleased with the result," said Maj. Mark Johnson, one of Young's lawyers.
The victim's father, Deli Rexhepi, testified in court that he harbored no hard feelings against Young for his son Gentrit's death.
In a written statement Young gave to investigators but which was never made public, he apparently said he had been guarding military vehicles, surrounded by children, whom he let touch his weapon.
He then pointed it away from them and pulled the trigger to see if the safety latch was on, but it wasn't and three bullets struck a Humvee and ricocheted off the ground, hitting the boy.