VILSECK, Germany — A 172nd Infantry Brigade soldier was sentenced to 35 years’ confinement at a court-martial Monday after he pleaded guilty to the murder of four Iraqi detainees, whose bodies were dumped in a Baghdad canal in 2007.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, who waived his right to a jury trial and elected to be tried by a military judge alone, admitted in court to shooting one of the four men in March or April 2007.

Mayo and two other former members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment — Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 28, and Master Sgt. John Hatley, 40 — were accused of shooting the detainees after capturing them with a large cache of weapons and ammunition.

Mayo pleaded guilty to premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole, reduction to private and a dishonorable discharge. However, the sentence was reduced to 35 years’ confinement under a pretrial agreement that will see him testify at Hatley’s murder trial in April. Mayo’s attorney said the pretrial agreement allows for parole after 10 years.

Last month Leahy, who confessed during a Criminal Investigation Command interrogation to shooting two of the detainees, was found guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Asked by the judge, Col. Jeffrey Nance, to explain his guilty plea, Mayo said the plot to kill the detainees was hatched by Hatley after the Iraqis were caught in a house with a large bag of ammunition and sniper rifles hidden nearby.

The detainees were zip-tied, blindfolded and taken back to a combat outpost in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle. When they got to the COP, Hatley said he believed that the detainees would soon be back on the streets if they were taken to a detainee holding facility, Mayo said.

“He felt that we should take care of them and I agreed. I had no issues,” he said.

The detainees were driven to an isolated canal where Hatley asked several members of Company A if they wanted to help kill them, Mayo said.

“Myself and Sgt. Leahy agreed to help,” he said.

The trio removed the detainees from the Bradley and lined them up on the canal bank, he said.

“First Sgt. Hatley asked us if we were OK. We replied, ‘Yes,’ and then the first shot was fired. After the first sergeant and Leahy fired, I shot,” said Mayo, adding that the three then pushed the detainees’ bodies into the canal.

During the sentencing phase of the trial several soldiers who served with Mayo in Iraq testified about his heroism, love of the Army, skill as a noncommissioned officer and care for his soldiers.

First Lt. Benjamin Boyd, who served as his platoon leader in Iraq, described him as showing “... the kind of quiet professionalism that the Army so often promotes as a desirable leadership quality.”

He added: “I hold few people in higher regard, not only as a person but as a military combat leader.”

Mayo’s mother, Deborah Mayo, of Fayetteville, N.C., and his wife, Joanna Mayo, of Schweinfurt, Germany, gave tearful testimony about the impact that their son and husband’s incarceration will likely have on his three children, ages 10, 6 and 8 months.

Joanna Mayo told the court that she suffers from an eye disease that limits her vision and prevents her from driving or reading.

Mayo’s 6-year-old son also suffers from medical problems and will require multiple surgeries in the next few years to straighten his back and allow his lungs to grow properly, she said.

In an unsworn statement Mayo apologized for his actions.

“I was the leader responsible for doing the right things even when it didn’t seem consistent with protecting the lives of my soldiers. I believed those four men were insurgents who were determined to kill and that they would be released if we took them to the detainee holding area,” he said.

In closing arguments, government prosecutor Capt. John Reisenberg told the court that Mayo’s sentence should deter others from making the same mistakes he had made.

“These facts have confronted American soldiers in past wars, they confront American soldiers in this war and they will confront them in future,” he said. “When soldiers like the accused are confronted with difficult moral dilemmas, that requires moral courage. The accused demonstrated a total lack of moral courage.”

Mayo’s lawyer, Michael Waddington, urged the court not to dismiss his client from the Army, something that would prevent him from getting veterans assistance to deal with Traumatic Brain Injury and post-traumatic stress disorder suffered during two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

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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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