US soldier guilty of murder in deaths of 4 Iraqis

February 20, 2009 6:35:57 PM PST
A U.S. Army medic was convicted of murder Friday for his involvement in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees shot in the back of the head in the spring of 2007. The court sentenced him to life in prison. Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr. was found guilty on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder by the nine-person jury who had heard testimony about the killings at the court-martial at the Army's Rose Barracks Courthouse since Wednesday.

After a sentencing hearing, Leahy received a life sentence, with the possibility of parole. He also will have his rank reduced to private, his pay foreited and be dishonorably discharged.

"Looking back at the canal, I see it was the wrong thing to do," Leahy read from a statement to the court before he was sentenced. "Please see that I'm not a bad person, that I made a bad mistake. I want to move on."

Leahy, 28, was acquitted of murder in a separate incident involving the death of another Iraqi in January 2007. Wearing his dress uniform, he sat impassively as the verdicts were handed down by the foreman of the jury made up of officers and enlisted personnel.

Leahy pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the deaths of a total of four Iraqi prisoners who were dumped in a Baghdad canal in 2007 after they were killed.

Leahy, of Lockport, Ill., confessed to military investigators that he shot one of the prisoners point-blank in the back of the head with a 9-mm pistol.

In closing arguments, Leahy's civilian lawyer, Frank Spinner, argued that Leahy went along with the killings because he was dazed from a lack of sleep and numb from being in a war zone for months.

It was a sentiment bolstered Thursday in testimony from Col. Charles Hoge, a doctor and director of psychology and neuroscience at the Army's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He testified Leahy was unable to reason properly because of the constant danger of living and operating in a war zone and getting little sleep for months on end.

"The tragedy resulted not so much by design but rather the working of fear, danger and madness attendant on many combat operations," Spinner said in his closing arguments.

Prosecutors contended that Leahy knew what he was doing.

"The defense can't just stand there and throw their arms up and say: 'We were protecting ourselves from future harm,"' Army Capt. Derrick Grace, the lead prosecutor, said, adding that the killings were the result of a breakdown of discipline and moral responsibility.

According to testimony at the court-martial, at least four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after a shootout with a patrol that included five other accused soldiers.

The Iraqis were taken to the U.S. unit's operating base in Baghdad for questioning and processing, although there wasn't enough evidence to hold them for attacking the unit. Later that night patrol members took the Iraqis to a remote area and shot them in retribution for the attacks on the unit, according to testimony.

Leahy, Master Sgt. John Hatley, 40, and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, 27, are accused of pulling the trigger, the jury of seven men and two women was told.

All of the accused were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. The unit is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.

Three soldiers are scheduled for later courts-martial. Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, of Providence, R.I., faces one charge of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. Mayo and Hatley are charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, and obstruction of justice.

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