US soldier faces hearing in 2007 deaths of Iraqis - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

US soldier faces hearing in 2007 deaths of Iraqis

VILSECK, Germany (AP) - A military court heard conflicting testimony Wednesday as to whether a U.S. Army sergeant helped kill four Iraqis who were bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a Baghdad canal last year.

Two witnesses at the hearing differed in their accounts of what happened, with one saying he saw Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and two others - Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. and Sgt. John E. Hatley - standing behind the four Iraqis facing the canal and saw them fire their weapons.       Another witness said he did not see anyone being shot.

Sgt. Daniel Evoy testified that he saw the three men with the four detainees - on their knees and facing the canal - and that he saw Leahy fire the first shot, then a detainee "slump to the ground."

Evoy said he told his driver that "I can't believe they shot them."

Evoy told the courtroom and Army judge Lt. Col. Erik Christiansen that both Mayo and Hatley had walked up to him earlier and said they intended to kill the four Iraqis.

"We didn't believe them. We thought 'Yeah, whatever,"' Evoy testified. "We thought we'd just let them go."

But Spc. Jonathan Shaffer testified that he did not see Mayo at all.

"I did not see Mayo shooting the detainees. I have no evidence of Mayo shooting," Shaffer said in response to questioning. "Sgt. Mayo never told me not to talk about the incident and he never talked to me about the incident."

Mayo, 27, is charged with one count each of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the spring 2007 incident. He is the sixth of seven soldiers implicated in the case to face a judge and faces a possible life sentence without parole if convicted in a trial.

The Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, will assess the charges against Mayo and decide whether to refer him for a court-martial.

Mayo has already been implicated by other soldiers who were on the patrol. All soldiers involved were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, which is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.

According to testimony, four Iraqis were taken into custody after a shootout with insurgents and taken to the U.S. unit's operating base near Baghdad. Later that night, according to testimony, members of the patrol took the four men to a remote location and killed them in retribution for attacks against the soldiers' unit.

The U.S. military did not give a specific date, saying only that the killings occurred between March 10 and April 16, 2007.

Spc. Steven Ribordy, 25, of Salina, Kansas, testified at his court-martial in October that he saw Mayo, Leahy Jr. of Lockport, Illinois, and Hatley, 40, at the scene of the killings and smelled gunpowder in the air.

Ribordy pleaded guilty to accessory to murder at his court-martial and was sentenced to eight months in prison. He received a bad conduct discharge from the Army as part of a plea deal.

In September, Spc. Belmor Ramos, 23, of Clearfield, Utah, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to seven months in prison and given a dishonorable discharge.

Ramos and Ribordy were in the same Humvee on the patrol when the killings took place, Ribordy testified. Both have agreed to testify for the prosecution at upcoming trials.

In August, the Army held Article 32 hearings investigating the involvement of Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, 27, of Bakersfield, California, and Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, of Providence, Rhode Island, in the incident.

The Army said Nov. 17 it had found enough evidence to take those men to a court-martial on charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, though it hasn't announced a date for the trials. Cunningham and Quigley could face possible life sentences without parole if convicted.

Both Leahy and Hatley waived their rights to an Article 32 hearing but no date has been set for their separate court-martials. Both face charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice stemming from the killings in spring 2007, and both face a possible life sentence without parole if convicted.

Leahy also faces additional charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and accessory to murder after the fact for a separate incident in January 2007. The Army has not provided further details on that incident.

Hatley also faces another murder and conspiracy to commit murder charge stemming from the same January 2007 incident.                  

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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