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VILSECK, Germany — A company first sergeant told his men that four Iraqi detainees were killed to avenge the deaths of three members of his unit, according to soldiers who testified at an Article 32 hearing Wednesday.

It was Sgt. Joseph P. Mayo of the 172nd Infantry Brigade, who appeared at the Rose Barracks courthouse on Wednesday on charges of premeditated murder. But it was 1st Sgt. John E. Hatley who was the subject of much of the testimony.

Mayo, Hatley and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. — then members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment — allegedly shot the detainees before dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal in March or April 2007.

Several members of the company who were at the canal when the killings occurred testified during the hearing after making deals with the government that grant them immunity from prosecution.

Pfc. Joshua Hupp said he was at the canal but didn’t see who pulled the trigger because he was on a security detail.

When the soldiers returned to their combat outpost, Hatley approached them and said: "This was for a few of our comrades who have fallen," he said.

Sgt. Daniel Evoy, who witnessed the execution of one of the Iraqis through the hatch of his Bradley fighting vehicle, said three Company A soldiers — Sgt. Mario Kawika De Leon, Spc. Marieo Guerrero, and Staff Sgt. Karl O. Soto-Pinedo — were killed in action near the time of the incident.

"I think the first sergeant got hit hard by Staff Sgt. Soto being killed. He was pretty much his go-to guy. I think Hatley had resentment towards those guys (the detainees)," he said.

Hupp said Hatley told him to get rid of evidence in the back of the Bradley.

"There were zip cuffs and pieces of cloth in the back. I threw them in a burn barrel. I was scared. I was in Iraq. You didn’t know how high it went," he said, adding that he was afraid of Hatley, the most powerful person at the combat outpost.

In a statement investigators read to the court Hupp said he was scared and afraid that Hatley would "[expletive] me up."

Spc. Justin Lamanna, who also heard the execution shots, said Hatley later asked him if he had a problem with what happened.

"I told him ‘no.’ I’m not sure I grasped the situation at the time. I went back to see if Hupp needed help getting the stuff out of the back of the Bradley. There were drops and splatters of blood on the ramp. I cleaned it up," he said.

Lamanna said he talked about the incident with Evoy during guard duty months later.

"We talked about the moral issues and whether we saw anything wrong. I personally believe there are certain things that are reserved for war that may not be good in peaceful times. We are trained to stay alive and the way you do that is to kill before being killed," he said.

Mayo’s Article 32 hearing is scheduled to continue on Thursday.

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