Errors but No Crime Found in Tillman's Death by Friendly Fire

The Pentagon has confirmed reports that a three-star general is among those accused of mishandling the information released about the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.Tillman's death became national news, but for weeks the nation believed incorrectly he had died from enemy fire.

In a briefing at the Pentagon Monday afternoon, officials said there was no criminal wrongdoing by the Army Ranger who'd fired the fatal shots. Investigators found that he was taking reasonable action because he and his fellow Rangers were under fire. The report also said there was no hostile feeling by the Rangers toward Cpl. Tillman. His death appears to have been a classic case of accidental death caused by the "fog of war."

It took four investigations to come to what are apparently the final conclusions. Defense Department officials admitted the first three investigations were flawed.

The men who were with Tillman that day knew he'd been killed by friendly fire. A number of high-ranking officers at least had a strong indication, according to the Pentagon report. But it took five weeks before Tillman's family and the rest of the nation were told the truth.

The report names nine army officers responsible for that mistake, including four generals. The highest ranking is Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, now retired. Kensinger was commander of U.S. Army Special Operations at the time of Tillman's death.

The Tillman family was initially told that he was killed by enemy fire, even though his fellow soldiers knew that was untrue.

Spc. William Aker told ESPN as part of a documentary, "They shot real close to us and we were waiving our hands. … I heard Brian O'Neal screaming at the top of his lungs, "He's dead, he's dead! Oh, my God, Pat Tillman's dead!'"

"We were told to keep our mouths shut," said Sgt. Jason Parsons.

As the American bullets in his vest later proved, Tillman was killed by fellow Rangers, who say their vision was obscured by the harsh glare of the Afghan sun.

The truth came out only after a nationally televised memorial service in May 2004, where Tillman was awarded the Silver Star. The Army said commanders wanted to complete their investigation before telling the Tillmans.

"The largest issue here is one of candor with the public," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. "This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident."

The nine officers are accused of failing to follow Army procedures and mishandling evidence. That was an apparent reference to the decision to burn Tillman's bloody uniform. The report will be turned over to a court martial convening authority, which will decide whether to charge the officers with criminal offenses.

A mother who lost her son in a friendly fire incident in Iraq 13 days after Tillman's death said she spoke to Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, about the report.

Peggy Buryj told ABCNEWS.com that Mary Tillman is unhappy with the way the report was released, including the fact that it was leaked to media outlets over the weekend before the family was informed of its findings.

"They didn't get briefed until today," says Buryj. "It was leaked to the press first. That's the way they do it. She was very upset about it, that they would leak it like that before telling the family."

Comments