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Army Reduces Calley's Term To 20 Years

By Peter Braestrap
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 21, 1971

Ft. McPherson, Ga., Aug. 20 -- A U.S. Third Army spokesman announced today that the life sentence of 1st Lt. William L. Calley Jr., convicted of murdering 22 South Vietnamese peasants at Mylai, had been reduced to 20 years.

The reduced sentence, ordered by Lt. Gen. Albert O. Connor, Third Army commander, was deemed, after review, "appropriate for the offenses for which he was convicted," the spokesman said.

This means that the 28-year-old former platoon leader will be eligible for parole after seven years -- one third of his sentence -- even if no further reductions occur as the Calley case moves up through the military appeals process.

The case automatically goes next to the Army's Court of Military Review. Then it can be appealed to the Court of Military Appeals, composed of three civilian judges. In addition, it can be considered by the Secretary of the Army and the President.

Amid a massive outcry over Calley's conviction, President Nixon announced April 3, the day after Calley was sentenced by a six-officer jury, that he would personally conduct the final review, which could legally include a complete pardon.

Calley, according to Army sources, got the word from Major Kenneth Raby, one of his military defense attorneys at his quarters at Ft. Benning, Ga., where he has been confined since Mr. Nixon ordered him removed from the post stockade April 1. Prisoners normally go to the Army prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kans. By Mr. Nixon's order, Calley will remain in his apartment until all appeals are exhausted and the President makes a final decision.

In San Clemente, Calif., White House Press Secretary Ronald. L. Ziegler said "it would be inappropriate to comment" on Connor's decision while further appeals procedures are still open.

George Latimer, Calley's chief defense attorney, said in Salt Lake City that he "was pleased and I'm sure Lt. Calley was pleased" by the reduction in sentence.

"The goal of the defense is to continue the appeal in the hope that before we finish we clear Lt. Calley. Otherwise, he alone may be the only one out of the Mylai incident that has to pay the penalty."

An Army spokesman said that Latimer met six days ago with Connor to give him a five-page statement along with a verbal plea for dismissal of Calley's conviction -- a plea permitted under military law. Connor's decision reportedly was ready for announcement yesterday but was delayed by Pentagon order.

A spokesman said Connor would be unavailable for comment.

Of 12 other cases involving allegations of rape, murder or assault at Mylai, charges have been dropped in eight for lack of evidence. Courts martial have resulted in three acquittals -- for Sgt. Charles E. Hutto, Capt. Eugene Kotouc and Staff Sgt. David Mitchell.

Trial of the twelfth Mylai case here began Monday, involving Capt. Ernest L. Medina, the company commander at Mylai and Calley's immediate superior as U.S. troops swept through the hamlet March 16, 1968.

Medina is charged with responsibility for the massacre of more than 100 peasants by his troops, with shooting a woman and a small boy, and with assaulting a Vietcong prisoner.

Army spokesmen said that Connor's decision on Calley would have no effect on the Medina trial.

But outside the courtroom here, F. Lee Bailey, Medina's civilian defense counsel, said he thought Connor's action was "appropriate." He added that he would, as a result, offer yet another motion to the military judge, Col. Kenneth Howard, to drop the mass murder charge against Medina.

The only other Mylai veteran still facing court-martial is Col. Oran K. Henderson former commander of the American Division's eleventh brigade, who is charged with covering up the massacre. His trial begins Monday at Ft. Meade, Md.

Calley was convicted March 29 and sentenced March 31 at Ft. Benning. The action raised a sudden public outcry from left and right, particularly in the South. Doves claimed he was made a scapegoat by higher-ups for an immoral war. Hawks argued that Calley was convicted merely for doing his duty.

Today's reduction of Calley's sentence follows a pattern set in previous cases in which American servicemen were convicted of murdering South Vietnamese civilians.

According to Army sources here, all 22 servicemen convicted since 1964 of premeditated murder of Vietnamese civilians (as was Calley) were initially sentenced to life. But on review, none of these sentences has been upheld. The longest sentence to day has been 35 years.

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