A US Army soldier who prosecutors assert hatched the plan for the execution-style slayings of four bound, blindfolded Iraqis by the side of a Baghdad canal was due to face murder charges at his court-martial yesterday.
Master Sergeant John Hatley, 40, is charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the shootings that took place in spring 2007 in the Iraqi capital.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hatley is the last of five soldiers to face trial in the slayings and his court-martial at the US Army Rose Barracks in southeastern Germany could last as long as a week, officials said.
Hatley also faces charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder stemming from a separate incident in January 2007. That victim had been involved in a shootout with another US patrol after an improvised explosive device attack.
Neither the Army or Hatley’s civilian lawyer, David Court, have divulged his hometown.
On March 30, Sergeant 1st Class Joseph Mayo was sentenced to 35 years in prison with the possibility of parole after he was convicted of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder after pleading guilty in his involvement in the spring incident.
According to testimony at previous courts-martial, at least 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 the suspects had fled.
The detainees were taken to the unit’s base for questioning and processing, though there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them for attacking the unit. Later that night patrol members took the men to a remote area and shot them so that they would not be able to attack US forces again, Mayo testified at his court-martial.
During his court-martial, Mayo testified that Hatley instigated the plan and that he and Sergeant Michael Leahy, volunteered to help kill the detainees.
Leahy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after he admitted to the killing of one of the detainees and shooting another. He was acquitted of murder in the January 2007 incident.
Two more soldiers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and 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. The unit is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.