Murder Trial of U.s. Soldier Goes to Jury

Chicago Tribune

February 20, 2009, Vilseck, Germany – A U.S. Army medic accused of involvement in the execution-style killings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners ha his fate placed in the hands of a nine-person jury that will decide if he took part in the killings willingly or was a reluctant participant dulled by a lack of sleep and constant terror from being in a war zone.

Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 28, has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the deaths of a total of four Iraqi prisoners, who were dumped in a Baghdad canal in 2007 after they were killed. He also faces charges, including murder, for a separate incident in January 2007.

If convicted, he faces life in prison and dishonorable discharge.

Leahy, of Lockport, Illinois, confessed to military investigators that he shot one of the prisoners point-blank in the back of the head with a 9mm pistol.

“The detainee I shot fell back on me,” he said in a videotape of the January 2008 interrogation played at his trial in the Army’s Rose Barracks’ courtroom this week.

His lawyer, Frank 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 bolstered on Thursday in testimony from Col. 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 in his closing arguments.

The Iraqi prisoners were taken to the U.S. unit’s operating base in Baghdad for questioning and processing though there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them for attacking the unit. Later that night patrol members took the Iraqis to a remote area and shot them in retribution for the attacks against the unit, according to testimony.

Leahy, Master Sgt. John Hatley, 40, and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, 27, are accused of pulling the trigger, the jury of seven men and two women was told.

But prosecutors contended that Leahy knew what he was doing after the four Iraqis had been taken into custody after a shootout with a patrol that included five other accused soldiers.

“The defense cant just stand there and throw their arms up and say ‘We were protecting ourselves from future harm,”‘ Army Capt. Derrick Grace, the lead prosecutor, said, adding that the killings were the result of a breakdown of discipline and moral responsibility.

“The accused made a conscious choice to go down the road to kill the detainees,” he said, adding that Leahy, and others in his squad chose to be “judge, jury and executioner all at once.”

All of the accused 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.

Three soldiers are scheduled for later courts-martial. Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, of Providence, Rhode Island, faces one charge of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. Mayo and Hatley are charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, and obstruction of justice.

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