- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

VILSECK, GERMANY (AP) - The lawyer for a U.S. Army soldier accused of masterminding the execution of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners in 2007 said Monday that physical evidence of the crime did not exist as he cast doubt on the murder charges.

“There is no autopsy, body or cause of death. There’s no evidence, just testimony,” David Court, Master Sgt. John Hatley’s civilian lawyer, told the courtroom. “There’s no evidence that people died because of a shooting.”

Hatley, 40, pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the incident that took place in spring 2007 in the Iraqi capital.

At the hearing at the Army’s Rose Barracks Courthouse in southeast Germany, Hatley, dressed in his green formal uniform, entered his plea to Army judge Col. Jeffrey Nance.

A jury of eight soldiers _ a mix of officers and noncommissioned officers _ are hearing the case, which is expected to last through the week.

Court said the investigation and a series of previous courts-martial were full of inconsistencies and contradictions in testimony that was often based on outright lying, and he bemoaned the lack of any physical evidence, including the bodies of the slain Iraqis.

Sgt. Michael Leahy, who confessed to shooting two of the detainees earlier this year and was convicted of murder, testified that he couldn’t be certain the Iraqis were dead because no one checked to see if they were breathing or had a pulse.

“Do you have any objective evidence that they died?” Court asked.

“I don’t have any evidence,” Leahy said.

Leahy admitted that he’d made false statements to Army investigators in a different investigation and that his story concerning the Iraq deaths had varied significantly over time.

“Did you see shots fired? Did you see Hatley shoot anybody?” Court asked another witness, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, who was also convicted of murder in the killings not two weeks ago in the same courtroom.

“No sir,” Mayo said, adding that he had no physical evidence that Hatley shot and killed anyone.

Hatley, whose hometown has not been disclosed, is the last of five soldiers to face trial in the slayings of the four Iraqis.

According to testimony at previous courts-martial, at least four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley’s unit and the discovery of weapons in a building where suspects had fled.

The detainees were taken to the unit’s base for questioning and processing, but there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them for attacking the unit. Later that night, patrol members took the men to a remote area and shot them so that they would not be able to attack U.S. forces again, Mayo testified at his court-martial.

Mayo also testified that Hatley instigated the plan and that he and Leahy volunteered to help kill the detainees.

Leahy was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Mayo was sentenced to 35 years with the possibility of parole.

Leahy and Hatley were also accused of killing another detainee in January of 2007.

Two more soldiers pleaded guilty in the case, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and the other to accessory to murder, and were sentenced to prison last year. Two others had charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder dropped this year.

All were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. The unit is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.

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