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VILSECK, Germany — Lawyers say they will appeal for clemency in the case of an Army medic who was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after being found guilty of murder in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in March 2007.

A panel of nine officers and noncommissioned officers found Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 28, guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder at a court-martial that ended Friday in Vilseck.

Leahy was one of three alleged shooters from Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment involved in an incident in which the four bound and blindfolded detainees were shot execution-style before their bodies were dumped in a Baghdad canal.

In addition to the prison sentence, Leahy’s penalty included a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and reduction to private.

Frank Spinner, Leahy’s civilian lawyer, said he will begin the appeal process.

"Our next step will be to put together a clemency package," he said, adding that the convening authority, Joint Multinational Training Command chief Brig. Gen. David R. Hogg, "can convert a life sentence to a term of years."

Spinner also said the government will likely seek Leahy’s cooperation in murder cases against two other soldiers — Master Sgt. John Hatley and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo — who also are accused of shooting the detainees.

Before the sentence was handed down, the defense called fellow soldiers, both enlisted men and officers, who had served with Leahy in combat and in garrison to testify to his character. All said he was the best medic they had ever served with.

For example, Sgt. Sauvao Olaitalosaga, who served with Leahy in Iraq, recalled an incident in which the young medic tried to save the life of a wounded soldier by inserting a breathing tube in his neck after the man was badly wounded by a roadside bomb.

Others recalled his treatment of wounded and injured Iraqi civilians and detainees and the fact that he’d risked his life for his country, earning a Purple Heart after getting shot in the neck by an enemy sniper.

Leahy’s parents and in-laws spoke of their pride in their son and son-in-law, who watched tearfully from his seat in the courtroom.

The most emotional moment came when his wife took the stand and revealed that she is six weeks pregnant. "I pray that it is a healthy pregnancy and that Michael will be there to be with me and share the experiences of our first child," she said.

In an unsworn statement Leahy apologized to his family, his unit and the Army for his actions.

"I can see it was the wrong decision," he said.

At the time of the canal killings, Company A soldiers faced daily attacks by insurgents using small arms, mortars and roadside bombs, he said.

"I was treating combat injuries almost on a daily basis — mostly Iraqis injured by other Iraqis. The company had a total of six KIAs (soldiers killed in action) — two killed by snipers, three killed by [explosively formed projectiles] and one by a deep buried [roadside bomb]," he said.

The deployment was "absolute hell," he added.

"It was one of the most scary and stressful times of my life," he said. "I don’t know how I made it in one piece."

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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