WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Central Texas soldier who has spent the past 11 years in at a prison in Leavenworth for war crimes he insists he did not commit is anxiously awaiting a decision from the Army's Clemency and Parole board after a hearing Thursday.
First Sgt. John Hatley, a highly-decorated soldier who served 20 years in the military, is being held in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. (Courtesy photo)
This is the fourth time 1SG John Hatley's case has come up for review and there is a growing number of people who are hoping the fourth time will be the charm and Hatley will be able to go back home to Groesbeck, Texas. Including U-S Congressman from east Texas Louie Gohmert.
"This is a guy who has no business being in prison at Leavenworth or anywhere," said Gohmert.
Behind glass doors at a building in Arlington, Virginia, the Army's Clemency and Parole Board got an earful from Hatley's supporters.
The sergeant has serving hard time in Leavenworth for the murder of four Iraqi detainees after a mission in Iraq, a conviction based not on evidence, but the questionable testimony of two soldiers already facing disciplinary action for other crimes.
Hatley's supporters claim the soldiers were eager to make a deal with prosecutors. One thing that has kept Hatley behind bars for eleven years is his refusal to admit to the crime.
"That's what I told the parole board. You have to come to grips that sergeant Hatley is a man of such integrity that he's not going to tell you what you want to hear. He's going to tell you the truth and the truth is he didn't commit four murders," said Gohmert.
Gohmert is part of a delegation of congressmen that says they're troubled by the Army's justice system. So is Central Texas Congressman Bill Flores. They are hoping their show of force will be hard to ignore by the clemency board.
Hatley's guilt or innocence is not something the parole board is looking at, rather, is he a threat to society and is the time served just punishment?
Hatley has support from back home in Groesbeck if he is released and his attorneys feel that is a lock.
"The kind of support out there for Hatley and the kind of guy he is, I can't see any decision here would be anything but his release," said retired Lt Col Colby Vokey, a criminal defense lawyer.
"John has a 20 year impeccable combat record and the time he's been incarcerated has also been impeccable," said Lt Col John Maher.
Hatley's family back home in Groesbeck will be on pins and needles until the board announces its decision, which will likely take a week or two.
The family, however, finds comfort in the fact that his case has attracted a lot of high profile attention from people who aren't likely to give up.
"Having the congressman here meant the world to me and the family. It's shining more light on a tragic story," said Rick Rand, Hatley's brother-in-law.
"I will be here until they let him out of prison and I will be there in Groesbeck when they bring him home a hero," said central Texas Congressman Bill Flores
Hatley has been recommended for parole before only to have it denied by then Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Francine Blackmon, who didn't even attend the parole hearing.
There is a new deputy assistant secretary now, so Hatley, his family, attorneys, the congressional delegations and thousands of supporters around the country are hoping this time will be different and Hatley will be home in time for Thanksgiving.
Congressman Flores says if that happens, he'll be spending his Thanksgiving in Groesbeck with a family that has a lot to be thankful for.