- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

VILSECK, GERMANY (AP) - The court-martial of a U.S. soldier accused of masterminding the execution of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners in 2007 was continuing Tuesday.

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

He also pleaded not guilty to murder charges in a separate January 2007 incident.

Army judge Col. Jeffrey Nance and an eight-person jury of officers and noncommissioned officers are hearing the case, which is expected to last through the week.

On Monday, defense lawyer David Court argued that there is no physical evidence incriminating Hatley, and the case thus far was based on contradictory prior testimony, and statements that witnesses admitted lying about _ casting doubt on Hatley’s murder charges.

“There is no autopsy, body or cause of death,” he said. “There’s no evidence that people died because of a shooting.”

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, though 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, according to testimony.

The bodies of the victims have never been found.

On March 30, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo was sentenced to 35 years in prison with the possibility of parole after he was convicted of murder in the spring incident.

Earlier this year, Pvt. Michael Leahy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the spring incident. He was acquitted of murder in the January 2007 incident.

Two more soldiers pleaded guilty in the incident, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and one to accessory to murder and were sentenced to prison for their role in the spring incident 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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