A US Army medic convicted of murder for his role in the killing of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees by a Baghdad canal was sentenced on Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The sentence for Sergeant Michael Leahy Jr, 28, was handed down by jury foreman and garrison commander Colonel Nils Sorenson after nearly five hours of sentencing testimony the same day he was found guilty on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder by the nine-person jury.
The court had heard witness testimony about the spring 2007 killings at the court-martial at the Army’s Rose Barracks Courthouse that began on Tuesday.
“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.”
The court found him not guilty of all other charges, including for murder in another incident in January 2007.
Besides imprisonment, Leahy will have his rank downgraded to private, his pay forfeited and be dishonorably discharged.
“This crime is what happens when discipline breaks down and soldiers try to become judge, jury and executioner,” prosecuting attorney Captain John Riesenberg said ahead of the sentencing.
“[Leahy] thought it out, planned it and executed it,” he said.
Prosecutors said Leahy would be transferred to the Army’s Mannheim detention facility and then would likely be moved to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He could possibly have his first chance at parole in about 10 years.
Defense attorneys said Leahy may still testify for the prosecution in upcoming cases related to the same incidents, a move that could help reduce his sentence.
Leahy’s civilian lawyer, Frank Spinner, noting Leahy’s otherwise exemplary performance as a soldier, called the court’s decision “a great tragedy for the Army.”
“The Army’s solution evidently was to put Leahy behind bars,” Spinner said.
“It’s easier to put these men behind lock and key and hope that they go away and are a deterrent to other soldiers. Is that justice? Something strikes me in my gut as wrong,” Spinner said.
Leahy confessed to military investigators that he shot one of the prisoners point-blank in the back of the head with a 9mm pistol.
In closing arguments earlier, 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 supported on Thursday in testimony from Colonel Charles Hoge, a doctor and director of psychology and neuroscience at the Army’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
He testified that 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.