US sergeant pleads guilty to four murders in Iraq

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Monday, March 30, 2009

A United States Army sergeant has decided to plead guilty to the murders of four Iraqi civilians. Sgt. First Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, is the fourth serviceman convicted over the killings, which occurred in March or April 2007.

The Iraqis were arrested in Baghdad under suspicion of attacks upon patrols by the army in the city. This was due to the rifles and ammunition in their possession, However, there was not enough evidence to hold the men.

I really believed I was protecting my soldiers

—Joseph Mayo

Instead, Mayo and a group of his soldiers took the men to a remote area and executed them. The bodies, which were never recovered, were dumped in a waterway near Baghdad and the victims were never identified.

Last year Spc. Steven A. Ribordy, 26, and Spc. Belmor Ramos, 24, pleaded guilty to being accessories to the four murders while medic Sgt. Michael Leahy, 28, was convicted of murdering one man and shooting another in the incident. Charges against two other soldiers have been dropped, and charges are still pending against Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, 40, who Mayo testified had the idea of executing the prisoners.

"He said we should take care of them. I agreed," said Mayo. At Ribordy's trial last month, where he confessed to his role, he also implicated Hatley, saying one victim was "still breathing and gurgling on the ground" after a shot to the head, so Hatley killed him by shooting him in the chest. Leahy had Ribordy destroy any pictures of the men before the murders.

The court martial was held in Grafenwoehr, Germany, as the soldier's unit - the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Iraq - is now based there as part of the 172nd Infantry Brigade.

"I really believed I was protecting my soldiers," Mayo said in court on Monday. "I take full responsibility for my actions. Now I have to pay for my mistake."