The following headline appeared in the New York Times today:
My family and I have been praying for a headline like this for over ten years.
Before I tell this story I will disclose my personal interest. My father met his best friend Darryl Hatley over seventy years ago. These two men raised their families in Boyd, Texas (population 700) where I grew up. “Uncle Darryl” and his family were more than our friends. They were family. In 1968 Darryl’s son John was born within a week of my little sister, so I have known John literally all of his life. While our paths separated years ago as he pursued his career in the Army and I pursued mine in the law, I have always kept up with John and his family. And now I pick up the story.
John excelled in the Army. He became an Airborne Ranger, was promoted to first sergeant and received numerous awards, including two Bronze Stars and an Army Commendation for Valor. He was ultimately inducted into the Audie Murphy Club, an exclusive organization for the best of the best of the Army’s NCOs.
All of that changed in 2009 when he was put on trial and convicted of trumped up charges of a murder for which there was absolutely zero evidence. C. J. Oakes summarizes this travesty of justice in this article.
Hatley’s plight began during a climate of “punishing US soldiers” (e.g. the “Leavenworth 10”) as a reaction to political opposition to the American presence in the Middle East and the accusations of inhumane treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay at the hands of the US Army. In the wake of the backlash, the Army upper echelon engaged in an effort to “prove” that they held US soldiers to high standards of engagement and accountability for their actions.
Hatley was convicted solely on the accusation of a soldier, Jesse Cunningham, whom he was in the process of bringing charges against, and the coerced and coached testimony of a handful of his men who were threatened with life in prison and never seeing their families again, and who were each being told the others were pointing the finger at them. With a court martial-conviction rate of almost 98%, these few accused soldiers – with the exception of Hatley – were not willing to take the chance to fight for the truth.
Sometime during March or April of 2007, a firefight occurred between First Sergeant Hatley’s unit and a group of Iraqi fighters. Hatley and his men chased the insurgents to a house about four blocks away from the initial firefight. The house was occupied by women and children who said they were the men’s wives and children. The men were taken into custody and a large cache of weapons and ammunition was recovered. However, as per the stringent policies pertaining to detaining enemy combatants, there was not enough evidence to detain the insurgents. This was a routine scenario for American soldiers, and First Sergeant Hatley made the decision to take the five detained prisoners to the outskirts of their sector and release them, which, according to Hatley, they did without incident.
Ten months after this event, Cunningham was facing two charges of striking a fellow NCO and one charge of threatening an officer with great bodily harm. Cunningham asked his attorney to take an offer of a deal to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Army offering information on a homicide in exchange for immunity. Immunity was denied, but the attorney had already given CID Cunningham’s statement.
There was not a single shred of physical or forensic evidence against Hatley or his co-accused, Sergeant First Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sergeant Michael Leahy. A seven-man Army diving team searched the canal where Cunningham said four men were executed and the bodies were supposedly dumped. They found nothing.
According to CID, no bodies, no items of clothing, no personal belongings, no bone fragments, no bullets, or no casings were found. CID had one of the soldiers take them to the house where the five enemy fighters had been apprehended to interview the family members of the supposed victims. All of them said they knew of no one missing or dead. No names were obtained. Further, CID interviewed neighbors from the surrounding areas who said no one was missing from the neighborhood.
I urge you to read the linked story for the whole sordid tale. To summarize, John was convicted of murder on the basis of tainted and coerced testimony of a man up on charges. There was ZERO forensic evidence. There were no bodies. No one was reported missing, much less dead. No complaint was ever filed by any Iraqi citizen. The supposed victims were never even named.
John was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on the basis of this
flimsy non-existent evidence. He has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence from the very first and says he will spend the rest of his life in prison before he admits to a crime he did not commit.
John’s family and mine (especially my sister) have worked countless hours over the years on appeals and pleas for pardons. And that is why I was thrilled to read the linked New York Times story that the President is considering pardons for several men who have been railroaded by the military system of “justice.” We hope and pray that John is on that list.
Please join me, my family, and John’s family as we continue to pray that justice might finally prevail.