- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Retired U.S. District Judge J. Robert Elliott, who overturned the conviction of Army Lt. William Calley in the 1968 My Lai massacre but was overruled by an appeals court, died June 27 at his home in Columbus. He was 96.

Judge Elliott was the nation’s oldest federal district judge when he ended his 38-year career in 2000.

Calley was convicted in a 1971 court-martial of killing 22 civilians as part of the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. He was the only man convicted in the case, which became a focal point of Vietnam protests.

In overturning the conviction in 1974, Judge Elliott said that the case was prejudiced by pretrial publicity, that Calley was denied access to evidence and that President Nixon had “publicly aligned himself with the prosecution.”

Calley initially had been sentenced to life. After a public outcry that Calley was being made a scapegoat, Mr. Nixon reduced the sentence.

Calley served three years of house arrest before his conviction was overturned by Judge Elliott. The conviction was reinstated by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Calley’s appeal, but Calley was not returned to confinement.

Judge Elliot’s tenure on the bench also put him amid the conflict over civil rights. In 1962, he issued an order halting civil rights demonstrations by Martin Luther King and others in Albany, Ga.

He later said he made the decision — subsequently overturned on appeal — because of a threat of violence against King and his supporters. But in the book “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63,” author Taylor Branch said Judge Elliott was a “strident segregationist.”

Judge Elliott was involved in another controversy in the 1990s when he handled a lawsuit against Delaware-based DuPont over its fungicide Benlate, which growers said damaged their crops. In 1996, the federal appeals court said Judge Elliott overstepped his authority when he fined DuPont $115 million for withholding evidence.

Judge Elliott was appointed to the bench by President Kennedy. Judge Elliot served earlier in the state House and was in the Navy during World War II.

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