From Wire Dispatches
Lt. William Calley Jr. was convicted of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians yesterday, making him the first American veteran of Vietnam to be found guilty in the 1968 slaughter of unarmed men, women and children during the My Lai massacre.
It took the six-man military jury a record 13 days-nearly 80 hours of deliberation-to reach its verdict. The jury must now decide whether to sentence Calley to life imprisonment or death, the only two alternatives under military law.
"I think it is a horrendous decision for the United States of America and the United States Army," said the chief defense attorney, 70-year-old George Latimer. An appeal is automatic under the military court system and could take months.
During the trial Calley admitted firing into a drainage ditch filled with Vietnamese captives but insisted that everything he did at My Lai on the morning of March 16, 1968, was under the orders of his company commander, Captain Ernest Medina. Medina is currently awaiting court-martial on similar charges at Ft. McPherson, Ga.
The government had charged Calley with premeditated murder of not less than 30 Vietnamese along a trail in My Lai and of more than 70 villagers in a drainage ditch just east of the small hamlet. The jury found him guilty on both counts, but reduced the number of victims to not less than one in the first incident and not less than 20 in the second.
Calley was also convicted of the murder of a Vietnamese man dressed in the white robes of a monk and of assault to commit murder for shooting at a small child in the ditch.
The infantry assault against My Lai was spearheaded by Calley's 1st Platoon, a unit of Charlie company within the America Division. The assault failed to find any Viet Cong soldiers, and the operation disintegrated into an execution of civilian villagers.
The story of what happened at My Lai was veiled from public view for 20 months. Twenty-five originally were charged: two were acquitted in court-martial proceedings, three still face trial and the rest were exonerated through administrative action, including Major Gen. Samuel W. Koster, former Commandant of West Point.
"I hope My Lai isn't a tragedy but an eye-opener, even for people who say war is hell," said Calley in an interview during the trial. "My Lai has happened in every war. It's not an isolated incident, even in Vietnam," he said.
"I can't say I am proud of ever being in My Lai, or ever participating in war," Calley said. "But I will be extremely proud if My Lai shows the world what war is and that the world needs to do something about stopping wars."
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