US Soldier Pleads Guilty in Deaths of 4 Iraqis

VILSECK, Germany - An American soldier pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to murder in the deaths of four Iraqis who were bound, blindfolded and shot last year, telling a judge he stood guard from a machine-gun turret as the men were killed.

Spc. Belmor Ramos, 23, of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, faces a possible sentence of life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder. As part of a plea deal, however, prosecutors asked the judge for a minimum of five years and a dishonorable discharge.

The four Iraqi men were blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal in April 2007 — allegedly in retribution for casualties in Ramos' unit.

Ramos said he agreed with the decision to kill the prisoners, and stood watch from the machine-gun turret of his Humvee when the slayings were carried out by others. He said he heard the shots, but did not personally witness the killings.

At Thursday's court-martial, Ramos' defense attorney asked for his client to be formally reprimanded and stay in the Army at a reduced rank.

"I understand I should be punished, and will accept any punishment, but I humbly ask you, your honor, that you let me stay in the Army," Ramos said before the judge called a recess to deliberate over the sentence.

Three other soldiers in the unit — Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. — were charged Tuesday with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.

They face a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for them to be sent before a court-martial, but no date has been set.

Ramos, along with Spc. Steven Ribordy, 25, waived their rights to the Article 32 hearing, the equivalent to a civilian preliminary hearing.

A date for Ribordy's court-martial has not been set.

In an earlier statement, the Army said the allegations related to "the deaths of several detainees who were captured as part of combat operations last year."

That statement, released in January, said that "preliminary findings indicate the deceased detainees were not persons detained in a detention facility," indicating the men were killed shortly after being captured.

In hearings in late August, soldiers who were on the patrol said the four Iraqis who were killed, probably Sunnis, were taken into custody following a shootout with insurgents, and taken to the unit's operating base near Baghdad.

Hatley and Leahy were also charged with one count each of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in a death near Baghdad in January 2007. Leahy was also charged with being an accessory after the fact, a statement this week from the military said.

The Army did not provide details on that death.