But the trial judge, Mr Justice O’Hara, said he was convinced Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
He said Holden should have appreciated the consequences of his actions from the moment he pulled the trigger.
Justice O’Hara said the weapon controlled by David Holden was “deadly in the extreme”.
He told Belfast Crown Court: “It is suggested on his behalf that it was not unusually bad or reprehensible for him to assume that the weapon was not cocked. I fundamentally disagree.
“In my estimation, this was the ultimate ‘take no chances’ because the risk of disaster was so great.
“The defendant should have understood at the moment he pulled the trigger that cocking the gun could have fatal consequences.
“It is not something that is only clearly seen in hindsight.
“The defendant took an enormous risk for no reason in circumstances where he was under no pressure and no danger.
“In light of the above, I find the defendant guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie by gross negligence.”
Holden is a former grenadier from England whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.
The case was tried in a Diplock format without a jury.
Supporters of Holden gathered outside court every day the trial was in session.
The trial continued amid continuing controversy over the government’s plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
The proposals for the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill provide an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict if they agree to cooperate with a new body known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).
The bill would also ban future civil suits and investigations into Troubles crimes.
The Holden case is one of a number of high-profile prosecutions of veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.