US Army Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr. was convicted Feb. 20 on charges stemming from the 2007 deaths of four Iraqi detainees, and was given a life sentence at a court-martial at a US military base in Germany. Leahy will have a possibility of parole after being dishonorably discharged, having his rank reduced to private, and forfeiting his pay. The medic from Illinois had admitted to shooting one of the prisoners but pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, and obstruction of justice, claiming his lack of sleep and long-term presence in a war zone had made him unable to reason properly.
Earlier that week, a military judge ruled that Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, who had been accused as a co-conspirator before his charges were dropped, would be allowed to testify against Leahy. Leahy was among six members of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry accused in killings that took place between March 10 and April 16, 2007. The prisoners were allegedly shot in the head while bound and blindfolded before being dumped in a canal. Fellow unit members Spc. Belmor Ramon and Spc. Steven Ribordy pleaded guilty to conspiracy and accessory to murder, respectively, in connection with the incident. (Jurist, Feb. 22)
Meanwhile, a US solider cleared of slaying two New York National Guard officers in Iraq had previously offered to plead guilty but the deal was rejected, documents reveal. Documents published in the Feb. 21 New York Times show that more than two years before the not-guilty verdict for Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez was reached in December, he had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence instead of the death penalty. The offer was rejected by the general responsible for prosecuting the case. Martinez went on to be cleared of charges that he intentionally detonated a mine on an US base in Tikrit, killing his company commander, Capt. Phillip Esposito, and Lt. Lou Allen in June 2005. Martinez has claimed vindication and returned to civilian life since the verdict. The Army “had a conviction handed to them and chose not to take it,” Barbara Allen, the widow of one of the slain officers and now a single mother of four young boys, told the Times. (UPI, Feb. 21)
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