VILSECK, Germany - A U.S. soldier convicted of murder in the execution-style slayings of four blindfolded Iraqis apologized for shooting one of them in the back of the head, but said he acted out of concern for his fellow troops.
"Nothing is harder than losing a soldier," Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo said in closing arguments after he was found guilty of murder. "Or calling a mother or a wife and telling them that you tried, but wondering if you did enough. I apologize to the military for what I've done. I apologize to the soldiers; I never wanted them to have to go through this."
Mayo told the court - just lawyers and a judge, with no jury - that he shot one of the Iraqis with a 9mm pistol. A judge-only decision is possible in military courts.
Mayo of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in the proceeding at the U.S. Army's Rose Barracks in southeast Germany.
He pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice in the incident, which happened while he was deployed in Baghdad. Military prosecutors later dropped that charge.
The 27-year-old was sentenced to 35 years in prison with the possibility of parole and will be incarcerated at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He will be dishonorably discharged, have his rank reduced to private and forfeit his pay, though not immediately.
His lawyer, Michael Waddington, said Mayo would testify against another soldier involved in the incident and could be eligible for parole in about 10 years. Mayo has been in the Army for nearly a decade.
Col. Jeffrey Nance, the judge overseeing the proceedings, told Mayo that he "entered into an agreement to commit premeditated murder" that saw the four Iraqi men shot in the head by the side of a canal in Baghdad between March and April 2007.
According to testimony Monday and at previous courts-martial, at least four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of small arms fire with Mayo's unit.
The Iraqis were taken to the unit's base for questioning and processing, although there was not enough evidence to hold them for attacking the unit. Later that night patrol members took the Iraqis to a remote area and shot them so that they would not be able to attack U.S. forces again, Mayo testified.
He said the unit's first Sergeant, John Hatley, 40, instigated the plan and that Mayo and another senior member of the unit, Sgt. Michael Leahy, volunteered to help kill the detainees.
Earlier this year, Leahy, 28, of Lockport, Ill., 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 over a separate incident in Baghdad in January 2007.
Nance asked Mayo if it was his intent to kill the prisoners, and if he was frustrated by the thought that, if detained in the usual way, the prisoners would soon be back on the street to shoot at U.S. soldiers.
"Yes sir," Mayo replied.
"If we took (the) individuals to detention they'd be released in a matter of days," he told the court. "(Hatley) said we should take care of them. I agreed."
"I believe I was acting in self-defense," Mayo said. "I just wanted to take care of my soldiers."
But he admitted that neither he nor his men were in any immediate danger, as the detainees were blindfolded with their hands bound.
Hatley, who is also accused of pulling the trigger, will be court-martialed on charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice on April 13. He also faces murder charges from the separate incident in Baghdad in January 2007. The Army has not released a hometown for Hatley.
Waddington said that under a deal reached with prosecutors, Mayo will testify at Hatley's court-martial.
Two soldiers - Spc. Steven Ribordy, 26, of Salina, Kansas, and Spc. Belmor Ramos, 24, of Clearfield, Utah - pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and were sentenced to prison for their role in the incident last year.
Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, 29, of Bakersfield, California, and Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, of Providence, Rhode Island, 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.
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