A U.S. Army sergeant pleaded guilty to murder Monday in the deaths of four Iraqi prisoners in 2007, telling a military court that the slayings were “in the best interest of my soldiers.”
Sgt. First Class Joseph Mayo, 27, of Fort Bragg was sentenced to 35 years in prison and became the fourth soldier convicted in the killing of four Iraqi men in Baghdad in spring 2007. The prisoners were each shot in back of the head while handcuffed and blindfolded, then dumped into a canal, according to testimony at the U.S. Army's Rose Barracks Courthouse in Vilseck, Germany.
The Iraqis had been arrested on suspicion of attacking U.S. military patrols in Baghdad after they were found in possession of rifles and ammunition.
Frustrated by a lack of evidence to keep them in detention, however, members of Mayo's infantry unit took the prisoners to a remote area and executed them, according to testimony and evidence presented in the case.
“I really believed I was protecting my soldiers,” Mayo told the court Monday. “I take full responsibility for my actions. Now I have to pay for my mistake.”
He pleaded guilty to premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
A medic in the unit, Sgt. Michael Leahy, 28, was convicted last month and sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, after he confessed to killing one of the prisoners and to shooting and wounding another.
Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, 40, is also scheduled to face court-martial next month on murder charges in the shooting of one of the prisoners.
In his testimony Monday, Mayo said Hatley suggested that the soldiers take matters into their own hands rather than free the Iraqis. “He said we should take care of them. I agreed.”
Two other soldiers, Spc. Steven A. Ribordy, 26, and Spc. Belmor Ramos, 24, pleaded guilty last year for being accessories in the murders. Charges against two other members of the unit have since been dropped.
The soldiers were members of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Iraq. Their unit is now part of the 172nd Infantry Brigade based in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
Ribordy also testified that he was told by Leahy to destroy photographs he had taken of the Iraqis after they were arrested.