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U.S. soldier guilty of murdering 4 Iraqis

Master Sgt. John Hatley could face life in prison for the 2007 execution-style slayings of four Iraqis killed at a Baghdad canal.

April 16, 2009|Associated Press

VILSECK, GERMANY — A U.S. Army soldier was convicted Wednesday of murder in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqis.

The prosecution said Master Sgt. John Hatley acted as "judge, jury and executioner" to carry out the killings in the spring of 2007. Hatley and two other soldiers took the detainees to a canal in Baghdad's West Rasheed neighborhood, where they shot them in the back of the head with 9-millimeter pistols, prosecutors said.

An eight-member military jury found Hatley guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.

The jury found him not guilty of obstruction of justice in the incident and not guilty of premeditated murder in a separate January 2007 death of an Iraqi insurgent.

Hatley and his wife, who sat directly behind him in the gallery, showed no emotion as the jury foreman read the decision. They hugged and smiled after the court adjourned, and his friends and comrades in court wished him well.

A career soldier, who has been in the Army for 20 years, Hatley served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Kosovo and in Iraq. He will be sentenced today at the Army's Rose Barracks courthouse in southern Germany. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Hatley, 40, denied the charges. Military cases go through an automatic appeal process, and his sentence also could be reduced in a clemency proceeding.

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

Hatley's lawyer David Court told the court-martial Wednesday that there was no physical evidence that the killings ever occurred.

According to testimony, the Iraqis were taken into custody 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, were convicted of the killings in separate courts-martial this year.

Two other soldiers pleaded guilty, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and one to accessory to murder, and were sentenced to prison last year. All the soldiers were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. The unit is now part of the 172nd Infantry Brigade.

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