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Wives say sergeants are heroes, not criminals

By Abbie Boudreau and Scott Zamost, CNN Special Investigations Unit
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CNN's Abbie Boudreau talks to the wife of one of the sergeants convicted of murder.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wives say three Army sergeants convicted of murder should not be in prison
  • They say their husbands were heroes for protecting other soldiers in Iraq
  • All three wives have set up Web sites to support their husbands
  • Watch Saturday, Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET; read blog posts: Abbie Boudreau; Scott Zamost

A CNN investigation reveals why the Army's rules for holding detainees may have led to the murders of four Iraqis by three decorated Army sergeants. Watch Saturday and Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET on CNN.

Vilseck, Germany (CNN) -- The wives of three Army sergeants in prison for premeditated murder say their husbands are war heroes who should not be in prison.

"I can sympathize with them that they felt like there was nothing else they could do," said Jamie Leahy, wife of Sgt. Michael Leahy, a 28-year-old medic.

She said her husband and the other two sergeants were heroes for protecting other soldiers. Leahy, 1st Sgt. John Hatley and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo killed four Iraqi men whom they had taken into custody at a canal in Baghdad, Iraq.

During the investigation of the killings, Leahy told Army investigators that the same men they had captured would be shooting at them again if they had released them.

"It's like somebody keeps coming and breaking into your house, and you told the cops, 'This is who it is, I saw them, they were in my house,' " Jamie Leahy told CNN's "AC 360°." "And that's not enough, and they are able to keep coming in and breaking into your house.

"I know it's more severe than that, but I mean if somebody kept coming in and breaking into your house, I think that the person would either want to get a gun or something to protect themselves because you feel like in your own home, you can't even be safe."

Earlier this year, Leahy, Hatley and Mayo were convicted of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in the killings of the four Iraqi detainees in March 2007.

Explainer: Killings at the Canal
Video: Soldier's Iraq murder confession
Video: Q&A with CNN's Abbie Boudreau
Video: A CNN special investigation
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Documents obtained by CNN, as well as Army interrogation tapes, reveal that Hatley believed that if the men were taken to a detainee holding area, they would be released because there was not enough evidence to hold them.

"It's like you're letting somebody go so they can come back and terrorize you again and try and kill you and maybe be successful next time," Jaime Leahy said.

Kim Hatley made a video in a field in Schweinfurt, Germany, where she and her husband lived before he was sent to the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In the video, she holds up cards asking for help in freeing "three American heroes."

"They served their country, and they've been through a lot, and so have the family members," she told CNN. "But, in life, with any challenge, you can't just look at one incident. This does not define who these soldiers are."

Kim Hatley says her husband is a "good man."

"I don't think my husband should have gone to prison," she said. "I don't think that was fair. I don't think any of our soldiers should have gone to prison."

And Johana Mayo said her husband has been punished enough.

"I think that he's given and sacrificed a lot," she said. "I think he's a war hero. He's not a criminal and he's ... being treated as a criminal, and he shouldn't be."

The Mayos have three children, ages 15 months, 6 and 11. Johana Mayo is legally blind and cannot drive.

"I was used to relying on my husband for everything," she said. "You know, and he was the one that drove the kids around. He was the one that took care of their homework and anything -- grocery shopping -- everything. I relied on him for everything, and now I feel like I have to turn to my daughter a lot, and she's only 11."

All three wives have set up Web sites to support their husbands: defendjohnhatley.com, defendjosephmayo.com and supportsgtleahy.com. Hatley, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, got clemency with his sentence reduced to 40 years. Both Leahy, who also received a life sentence, and Mayo, who got 35 years, had their sentences reduced to 20 years.

All three sergeants were reduced in rank to private and sent to Fort Leavenworth.

"I think that what happened was done to protect the soldiers, to keep our soldiers safe from getting harmed or killed," Johana Mayo said.