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1971: Calley guilty of My Lai massacre
Lieutenant William Calley has been found guilty of murder at a court martial for his part in the My Lai massacre which claimed the lives of 500 South Vietnamese civilians.

The 27-year-old commander could receive the death penalty or life imprisonment after the massacre which saw US soldiers open fire on civilians in My Lai and neighbouring villages in central Vietnam in March 1968.

Lieutenant Calley was in charge of Charlie Company, a unit of the American Division's 11th Infantry Brigade, who were on a mission to root out the communist 48th Viet Cong Battalion fighters.

Brutal killings

The Viet Cong were not in the village and instead more than 500 unarmed civilians were brutally killed in an unprovoked attack by US troops.

Lieutenant Calley will be sentenced in the next few days after the verdict was announced at Fort Benning, Georgia today.

The jury of six army officers spent 13 days weighing up evidence from a four month trial.

They rejected his claim he was merely following orders in a military chain of command instilled in him since joining the army.

Lieutenant Calley faced four charges:

  • the murder of at least 30 "oriental human beings" at a junction of two trails
  • killing 70 others in a ditch
  • shooting a man who approached him with his hands raised begging for mercy
  • killing a child running from the ditch where the 70 died.

He was found guilty on the first three charges, although the number of the first was slashed from 30 to one because of conflicting evidence, and the death toll in the second charge was reduced to 20.

The final charge was reduced to assault with intent to kill a child of which he was found guilty.

Three of Lieutenant Calley's senior officers will be tried on charges arising from the massacre, two men junior to him have already been tried and acquitted and charges against 19 others have been dropped.

Charges came after the army commissioned an investigation into the cover-up of the massacre which became known as the Peers inquiry.

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Watch/Listen
Lieutenant Calley (centre) leaves court after being found guilty
Calley could face the death penalty

Charles Wheeler reflects on the trial



In Context
The massacre came to light a year after it happened after investigative media reports.

The crimes included murders, rape, sodomy, maiming and assault of civilians.

The Peers inquiry recommended charges should be brought against 28 officers and two non-commissioned officers involved in the concealment of the massacre.

Lieutenant Calley was the only one to be convicted and he was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

Within three days he was out of prison, pending appeal, on the personal instructions of President Richard Nixon.

He spent the next three years under house arrest at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Freed on bail in 1974 his sentence was then cut to 10 years but he was paroled later that year after completing one third of his sentence.

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