Trial begins for GI accused in Iraqis’ deaths
February 18, 2009
VILSECK, Germany — A jury of senior officers and enlisted soldiers from U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr was impaneled during the first day in the trial of a soldier accused of killing four Iraqi prisoners in March or April 2007.
Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 26, of Lockport, Ill., appeared at a court-martial in Vilseck on Tuesday, charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice. He also faces charges, including murder, for a separate incident in which a detainee was allegedly killed in January 2007.
Leahy is one of three soldiers charged with murder following the March or April 2007 incident in which four Iraqi prisoners were allegedly shot and dumped in a Baghdad canal by members of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade — now part of the Grafenwöhr-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.
Several members of the unit have been convicted of lesser offenses while others await trial. Two other alleged shooters — Sgt. Joseph Mayo, 27, and Sgt. John Hatley, 40, face charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.
Lawyers filed a pretrial motion last month to suppress a confession that Leahy made to investigators but the motion was denied.
Leahy’s trial began with a motion by his lawyers to exclude testimony from Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, 27.
Cunningham, who was nearby when the detainees were killed, told an Army lawyer about the incident in January last year. Last week the Army dropped a charge against Cunningham of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.
Leahy’s lawyers, who interviewed Cunningham for the first time on Monday, argued that they had not had sufficient access to the witness and that his evidence should not be heard by the court.
However, judge Col. Timothy Grammel said Cunningham could testify. The defense did not have an automatic right to interview a witness prior to trial, he said.
Leahy’s lawyers persuaded Grammel to excuse one of the potential panelists, Col. John RisCassi, after the former 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment commander told the court that he had read news reports about the case and may have discussed them with others.
Two other potential panel members were excused at the request of the prosecution and defense, each of whom had the automatic right to excuse one juror, leaving nine panelists to decide the case.
The trial continues Wednesday.