VILSECK, Germany – A U.S. Army soldier convicted of murder in the 2007 killings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqis was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison.
Master Sgt. John Hatley, 40, will also have his rank reduced to private, forfeit all pay and receive a dishonorable discharge, a jury of eight Army officers and noncommissioned officers decided. He has the possibility of parole after serving 20 years.
Hatley and his wife, who sat behind him in the public gallery, both showed no emotion when the sentence was read out. He declined to speak to reporters afterward.
Hatley was found guilty Wednesday of premeditated murder and conspiracy in the execution-style killings of the detainees. He was acquitted of premeditated murder in a separate January 2007 incident in which a wounded Iraqi insurgent was shot and killed.
Hatley, who recently underwent knee surgery, limped to the stand with a cane to give an emotional closing statement earlier Thursday.
The career soldier urged the jury to let him complete six more months of military service, which would have brought his total service to 20 years.
"I've served my country for half my life, which I think is the most honorable profession in the world," he said. "I served America with the best men our great country has to offer. And they are so many. My soldiers are like my sons and there's nothing I wouldn't do for them."
Prosecution lawyer John Riesenberg had argued the case was about how Hatley used his reputation to lead his soldiers "down the brutal path to murder."
"This is among the most colossal failures of leadership," Riesenberg said.
However, defense lawyer David Court said Hatley was not the evil person he was portrayed as being.
"You have to think about what they (these men) were going through (in Iraq) to judge fairly. He loved his soldiers too much, that was his crime," Court said.
The lawyer later voiced disappointment at the sentence.
"I'm disappointed the panel did not see fit to reduce the time of confinement," Court said. "They had the authority to reduce it to a lesser period."
Hatley could yet have his time in prison reduced by the Army's convening authority, a military panel that will review the case and sentence.
Army rulings also go through an automatic appeals process.
Court had argued during the week that the prosecution's case was based on assumptions and conflicting testimony and that there was no solid proof, such as bodies or eyewitness accounts.
However, previous courts-martial related to the incident resulted in murder convictions of two other soldiers who served in Hatley's unit. Some soldiers have admitted to involvement in the killings.
According to testimony this week and at previous courts-martial, the four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley's unit.
Some of the soldiers then took the detainees to a nearby canal and shot them in retribution for attacks on the unit and in hopes of avoiding future attacks, according to the testimony.