US soldier found not guilty of Iraq murders

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BAGHDAD, Nov 10 (Reuters) A US solider has been acquitted of three murder charges after investigations into the unlawful killings of three Iraqis earlier this year, the US military said today.

A US court martial, however, found Staff Sergeant Michael Hensley, a sniper from the 1st Battalion, 501st Airborne, guilty of wrongfully placing an AK-47 rifle beside the body of an Iraqi man.

Hensley was one of three US soldiers charged with the killings of three Iraqis in separate incidents during US operations between April 14 and May 11 near the town of Iskandariya, 40 km south of Baghdad.

The charges stemmed from complaints made by other US soldiers to authorities.

Hensley was found not guilty on all three charges of premeditated murder at a court martial on Thursday at Camp Victory, the main US base near Baghdad's international airport, the military said in a statement.

The guilty verdict on the charge of placing an assault rifle beside the body of an Iraqi man related to an incident on May 11. He was also found guilty on a charge of disrespect for a superior commissioned officer.

Hensley was sentenced to 135 days in jail, reduced in rank to sergeant and given a letter of reprimand.

Hensley was one of three soldiers charged with the murders.

Specialist Jorge Sandoval was found not guilty on two murder charges last month but was convicted of planting evidence on one of the bodies.

Sergeant Evan Vela has been charged with one count of premeditated murder, wrongfully placing a weapon beside a dead Iraqi, making a false statement and obstructing justice. He faces a preliminary hearing on Sunday.

Incidents of American soldiers illegally killing Iraqis since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003 have incensed Iraqis and added to calls for the withdrawal of US troops.

REUTERS SZ HS1732

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