Hatley’s Homecoming: Local community celebrates imprisoned soldier’s return

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 4:33 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 11:03 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Family, friends and supporters welcomed a Central Texas soldier home in fine fashion Monday night.

John Hatley returned to Groesbeck on Saturday after serving nearly 12 years in Leavenworth for war crimes he says never happened.

The 20-year, highly-decorated U.S. Army soldier says he was betrayed by the military justice system, but certainly not by his community where he plans to spend the remainder of his free life.

The community in Groesbeck, Hatley’s hometown, gathered at the high school football field Monday evening to welcome Hatley home and discuss the long journey his supporters feel was unlawful, unjustified and unfair.

The former First Sergeant was sentences to life in prison by a military court for the murder of four Iraqui detainees in Iraq in 2007, but there as no physical evidence and no bodies were ever found.

After getting a reduced sentence, Hatley was paroled from Leavenworth federal penitentiary Friday: since then, he’s gotten married, driven back to Texas and had a hero’s welcome.

The Limestone County Judge declared October 19, 2020 as John Hatley Day in Limestone County as yellow ribbons decorated Hatley’s former high school in his honor.

Hatley says he plans to spend the rest of his life in his hometown, a life of freedom his supporters say is shorter than it was supposed to be.

While Hatley has been paroled, he continues to fight for a full pardon to clear his name, a name people in Groesbeck remember and cheer for.

Besides fighting for his own pardon, Hatley says his goal now is to help other wrongly convicted soldiers betrayed by the system.

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