Key Witness Confessed Before Getting Warning of Rights
NEW YORK (AP) _ A rifleman who participated in the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians in My Lai blurted out a confession before being told of his rights, the Army’s investigator says in a memoir published Thursday.
The witness, Paul D. Meadlo, came to his interrogation more than a year after the slaughter ″determined to relieve his conscience and describe the horrors of My Lai,″ retired Col. William Wilson writes in American Heritage magazine.
Wilson’s investigation for the Army inspector general led to the court- martial of former Lt. William Calley, Meadlo’s platoon leader, who was to be convicted of leading a slaughter of at least 175 to 200 unarmed men, women and children in the hamlet.
Wilson said that when he embarked on the case, it was viewed as fact- finding rather than a criminal investigation. He said he and Col. Clement Carney, the inspector general’s counsel, not wanting witnesses to clam up, decided not to open interviews with the warning that incriminating statements could be used in court.
But Wilson wrote he was shocked at how precipitously Meadlo admitted participating in the killing.
Meadlo, weeping, immediately described standing guard over about 80 villagers and Calley ordering ″Waste them 3/8″ Wilson wrote. Meadlo said Calley then opened fire on the villagers and Meadlo joined in, spraying four or five clips of ammunition when Calley told him to shoot.
″I stopped him and told him to wait outside the room,″ Wilson wrote.
He said he immediately called Carney, who ″instructed me to give Meadlo his warnings and see if he would repeat the confession.″
″After he was warned that anything he said could be held against him in a court of law, he said, ‘I don’t care.’ He repeated his confession,″ Wilson said.
Meadlo went public with his confession on television later that year, but when he testified at Calley’s trial it was under a grant of immunity and a threat of being held in contempt.
Calley was convicted and given a life sentence that was knocked down eventually to three years of house arrest.