VILSECK, Germany — An Army medic was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole following his conviction Friday afternoon of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in March 2007.
The panel of nine officers and noncommissioned officers deliberated for roughly five hours Friday before returning their verdict against Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 26.
Leahy and a large group of family members in attendance at the trial reacted calmly as the verdict was read. Outside the courtroom afterward, he stood with a group of soldiers who were consoling him.
Leahy’s attorney, Frank Spinner, said the case will automatically be sent to the military's appeals court in Washington, D.C.
Leahy can also appeal to the trial's convening authority, Brig. Gen. David Hogg, for clemency. If successful, Leahy's sentence could be reduced, Spinner said.
For the moment, Leahy will be imprisoned at the Army's detention facility in Mannheim, Germany. There is a strong possibility that Leahy will be asked to testify at the courts-martial of several soldier who are yet to be tried in the incident, Spinner said.
In closing arguments Friday morning, the defense said the prosecution’s case was built on unreliable testimony from inconsistent witnesses. The prosecution countered with Leahy’s confession to Army investigators.
Leahy had pleaded not guilty to the charges, which related to incidents in January and March 2007 involving Leahy and several other members of his unit at the time – Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.
He was convicted for his role in the March 2007 incident, of shooting two of four Iraqi detainees who were bound, blindfolded and killed execution-style beside a Baghdad canal.
He was acquitted of a charge of obstructing justice and accessory after the fact for the January 2007 incident, in which it was alleged Leahy helped carry a wounded detainee out of a Bradley fighting vehicle before the detainee was shot by then-Company A 1st Sgt. John Hatley.
Spinner tried to argue that the testimony of government witnesses was unreliable.
Many witnesses were fellow Company A members who played lesser roles in the killings and testified only after being granted immunity, he said.
Spinner drew attention to inconsistent statements made by some of the witnesses and suggested that their memories of events appeared to have changed over time.
Furthermore, the prosecution’s case was based almost entirely on witness testimony, he said. Forensic evidence, such as bodies or even records of the identities of the alleged victims, was lacking.
Spinner also emphasized Leahy’s state of mind at the time of the canal killings. He suggested that his client was under so much stress and so sleep-deprived that he did not know what he was doing at the time.
During his closing argument, Army prosecutor Capt. Derrick Grace acknowledged that Company A’s run was “hard and long” in Iraq, but that was not an excuse not to follow rules of engagement or to mistreat detainees.
“The defense cannot throw up their hands and say they (the Company A soldiers) were protecting themselves from future harm. How many of the people they killed were insurgents? One? Two? Three? Four? Possibly but we don’t know and they (the Company A soldiers) don’t know. They made the decision to execute four people. They made that decision with less knowledge of their guilt than we have today of the accused’s guilt,” he said.
Grace conceded that many of the prosecution witnesses testified under immunity deals, but pointed out that their evidence merely corroborated Leahy’s confession to the canal killings during a video-taped Criminal Investigation Command interrogation.
“If you buy the defense argument you are saying there is no such thing as premeditated murder in a time of war – that the U.S. does not hold itself to the same standard it expects of others,” he said.