Calley trial defense begins - HISTORY
Year
1970

Calley trial defense begins

The defense opens its case in the murder trial of Lt. William Calley. Charged with six specifications of premeditated murder, Calley was a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division. He was tried because of his leadership role in the My Lai massacres. On March 16, 1968, Calley led his troops to murder innocent Vietnamese civilians living in a cluster of hamlets located in Son Tinh District in Quang Ngai Province in the northern coastal lowlands.

Citing “superior’s orders,” Defense Attorney George Lattimer contended that Capt. Ernest Medina, Calley’s company commander, told his men that they were finally going to fight the enemy. He reportedly ordered “every living thing” killed. Lattimer also cited poor training of the platoon, the rage of the men who had seen their buddies killed, and the expectation of fierce resistance as additional factors contributing to the incident. The lawyer also charged that higher commanders on the ground and in the air observed the episode but did nothing.

Despite Lattimer’s argument, Calley was found guilty of murdering 22 civilians and sentenced to life imprisonment. His sentence was reduced to 20 years by the Court of Military Appeals and further reduced to 10 years by the Secretary of the Army. Proclaimed a “scapegoat” by much of the public, Calley was paroled by President Richard Nixon in 1974, after serving about a third of his 10-year sentence.

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