US soldier convicted over Iraq deaths

April 15, 2009 1:05:08 PM PDT
A U.S. Army master sergeant was convicted Wednesday of murder in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees. Master Sgt. John Hatley and two others took the four men to Baghdad's West Rasheed neighborhood, shot them in the head and dumped their bodies into a canal in spring 2007, the prosecution said. Hatley acted as "judge, jury and executioner" in hatching the plot.

An eight-strong military jury found Hatley guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder after a three-day court-martial in Germany.

But the jury found him not guilty of premeditated murder in the January 2007 death of an Iraqi insurgent.

The 40-year-old career soldier, who has served in the first Gulf War, Kosovo and in Iraq, will be sentenced Thursday at the U.S. Army's Rose Barracks in southern Germany. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Army prosecutor Capt. Derrick Grace said testimony had pointed to "a complete breakdown of discipline and crimes that are among the worst of a soldier."

"On two separate occasions, the accused became the judge, jury and executioner," he said.

Prosecutors said Hatley oversaw the shootings of detainees and had told his comrades they were going to "take care" of the Iraqis and killed them.

Hatley had denied the charges. His lawyer David Court told the court-martial there was no physical evidence that the killings ever happened as no bodies, witnesses or blood had been found.

According to testimony this week and at previous courts-martial, the four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley's unit and the discovery of weapons in a building where suspects had fled.

Two soldiers in Hatley's unit, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo and then-Sgt. Michael Leahy, have been convicted of the killings at separate courts-martial earlier this year.

Another two soldiers pleaded guilty in the spring incident, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and one to accessory to murder, and were sentenced to prison last year. Two others had charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder dropped this year.

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

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