updated 4/15/2009 5:54:20 PM ET 2009-04-15T21:54:20

A U.S. Army soldier was convicted Wednesday of murder in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees.

Master Sgt. John Hatley acted as "judge, jury and executioner" to hatch the plot and carry out the killings in spring 2007, prosecutors said. Hatley and two others took the detainees to a canal in Baghdad's West Rasheed neighborhood where they shot them in the back of the head with 9mm pistols, the prosecution said.

An eight-strong military jury found Hatley guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder after a three days of proceedings.

But the jury found him not guilty of obstruction of justice in the incident and not guilty of premeditated murder in a separate January 2007 death of an Iraqi insurgent.

Hatley and his wife, who sat directly behind him in the gallery, were unmoved as the jury foreman read out the decision. They hugged and smiled after the court adjourned and his friends and comrades in court wished him well.

The 40-year-old career soldier, who has served in the first Gulf War, Kosovo and in Iraq, will be sentenced Thursday at the U.S. Army's Rose Barracks in southern Germany. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Hatley, who has been in the Army for 20 years, had denied the charges. He could see any sentence reduced through a future military clemency process. Military cases also go through an automatic appeal process.

'Breakdown of discipline'
Army prosecutor Capt. Derrick Grace said Wednesday that testimony had pointed to "a complete breakdown of discipline and crimes that are among the worst of a soldier."

"On two separate occasions, the accused became the judge, jury and executioner," he said.

Prosecutors said Hatley oversaw the shootings of detainees and had told his comrades they were going to "take care" of the Iraqis.

Hatley's lawyer David Court told the court-martial Wednesday there was no physical evidence that the killings ever happened: no witnesses, family members, bullet casings, blood or witnesses.

According to testimony this week and at previous courts-martial, the four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley's unit and the discovery of weapons in a building where suspects had fled.

Two soldiers in Hatley's unit, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo and then-Sgt. Michael Leahy, have been convicted of the killings at separate courts-martial earlier this year.

Another two soldiers pleaded guilty in the spring incident, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and one to accessory to murder, and were sentenced to prison last year. Two others had charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder dropped this year.

All were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad. The unit is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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