2nd Lieutenant William L. Calley Becomes Sole Conviction in My Lai Massacre
On November 17, 1970, the United States Army charged 14 officers, including Major General Samuel W. Koster, the Americal Division's commanding officer, with suppressing information related to the incident.
Most of those charges were later dropped. Brigade commander Henderson was the only officer who stood trial on charges relating to the cover-up; he was acquitted on December 17, 1971.
After a four-month-long trial, in which he claimed that he was following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina, William Calley was convicted, on March 29, 1971, of premeditated murder for ordering the shootings. He was initially sentenced to life in prison. Two days later, however, President Nixon made the controversial decision to have Calley released from prison, pending appeal of his sentence. Calley's sentence was later adjusted, so that he would eventually serve four and one-half months in a military prison at Fort Benning.
In a separate trial, Captain Medina denied giving the orders that led to the massacre, and was acquitted of all charges, effectively negating the prosecution's theory of "command responsibility", now referred to as the "Medina standard". Several months after his acquittal, however, Medina admitted that he had suppressed evidence and had lied to Colonel Henderson about the number of civilian deaths.
Most of the enlisted men who were involved in the events at My Lai had already left military service, and were thus legally exempt from prosecution. In the end, of the 26 men initially charged, Calley's was the only conviction.
Some have argued that the outcome of the My Lai courts-martial was a reversal of the laws of war that were set forth in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals. Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway was quoted in the New York Times as stating that Calley's sentence was reduced because Calley honestly believed that what he did was a part of his orders — a rationale that stands in direct contradiction of the standards set at Nuremberg and Tokyo, where German and Japanese soldiers were executed for similar acts.
Lieutenant William Calley was convicted of murder for his role in the March 1968 My Lai massacre, which left hundreds of Vietnamese civilians dead. Calley ordered the men of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Americal Division to shoot everyone in the village. He himself rounded up a group of villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and then mowed them down with machine gun fire. Sentenced to life in prison, Calley was seen as a scapegoat for the Army's failure to instill morale and discipline in its troops. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced. He was eventually released from prison in 1974. He later found work in the insurance business.