Found Not Guilty of All Charges on MYLAI
By Homer Bigart
Special To New York Times
Ga., Sept. 22
Capt. Ernest L. Medina was acquitted today of all charges of
involvement in the killing of civilians at Mylai.
The jury of five combat officers deliberated only 60 minutes
before reaching a verdict of not guilty.
Captain Medina was acquitted of premeditated murder in the killing
of a Vietnamese woman, of involuntary manslaughter in the killing
of "no less than 100" Vietnamese civilians, and of two
counts of assault against a prisoner.
A stifled cheer and some handclapping, quickly suppressed by
the military judge, erupted in the small courtroom when the president
of the court, Col. William D. Proctor, announced the verdict.
Captain Medina saluted the court, strode back to his seat at
the defense table, blinked rapidly and swallowed a glass of water.
But for a moment, struggling to maintain his composure, he kept
his eyes away from his German-born wife, Barbara, who had collapsed
weeping on the shoulder of a friend.
They embraced happily in the witness room a moment later, then
Captain Medina went outside and told a crowd of newsmen that although
he had always maintained "complete faith in military justice"
he had not changed his determination to leave the Army.
The case of Captain Medina, who was charged with overall responsibility
for the killings at the Vietnamese hamlet of Mylai 4 on March
16, 1968, went to the jury at 2:53 P.M.
Captain Medina, the last man to face a murder charge arising
from the deaths of Vietnamese civilians three and a half years
ago, heard himself described in the defense summation as "no
filthy felon" but "a disciplined commander who honored
and loved the uniform he wore and the company it represented."
The 35-year-old officer, normally swarthy but now pallid and
puffy eyed, was denounced in the Government's summation as an
officer who had abrogated his responsibility, and who "like
Pontius Pilate cannot wash the blood from his hands."
Captain Medina had been charged originally with the premeditated
murder of at least 100 civilians during the sweep through Mylai.
He was charged also with the murders of a woman and a small boy
and with two counts of assault against a prisoner.
The charge of murdering 100 civilians was reduced to involuntary
manslaughter by the military judge, Col. Kenneth A. Howard on
Friday. At that time, Colonel Howard also threw out the charge
that Captain Medina had murdered a child. The jury was not informed
of these decisions until late today.
The jury of five combat officers had to consider whether Captain
Medina was guilty or not guilty of the murder of the woman, an
incident described by his counsel, F. Lee Bailey, as a "justifiable
battlefield homicide"; whether he was guilty of assault by
shooting twice over the head of a prisoner, and whether he had
been aware that his men were "improperly killing noncombatants"
and had declined to exercise his command responsibility by attempting
to halt the killings.
In his final argument, Maj. William G. Eckhardt ridiculed the
defense's contention that Captain Medina had remained unaware
of any large scale killings at Mylai until it was too late.
It was incredible, the prosecutor said, that Captain Medina
who maintained continuous radio contact with his platoons during
the action, had not known what his troops were doing one, two,
three and even four hours after the assault had been launched.
Colonel Howard, in his instructions to the jury, cast doubts
on the testimony of some of the prosecution witnesses. He referred
to Gerald Heming as a "frequent user of wine, drinking as
much as four quarts a day and (who) had experimented with LSD."
The judge also recalled that two other Government witnesses
had been impeached. They were Thomas B. Kinch, who was said to
have had a court-martial conviction and who may or may not have
withheld this information from his employer, and Lous Martin,
a San Jose, Calif., policeman who told a lie detector expert that
a group of civilians he saw shot down near Medina "may have
been an illusion or a hallucination."
Mr. Bailey said his only concern had been that the jury might
convict Captain Medina on the assault charge. Mr. Bailey had maintained
that Captain Medina was merely trying to frighten the prisoner
when he fired two bullets over the prisoner's head this was permissible,
Mr. Bailey said, under the Army field manual, which said that
"threats of violence" could be used against prisoners
who refused to talk.
Standing beside Mr. Bailey was a man in a peacock blue suit
who wore a diamond and gold American flag on his lapel. Mr. Bailey
introduced him as a major contributor to the Medina defense fund,
an Orlando, Fla., millionaire named Glenn W. Turner.
Mr. Turner said that he had made his money in cosmetics, had
already "donated" $20,000 to $25,000 and was prepared
to give much more because he believed Captain Medina was "sincere."
Only Calley Convicted
The only American military man convicted for the murdering of
civilians at Mylai is First Lieut. William L. Calley, Jr. He was
found guilty last March of the murder of 22 civilians at the South
After Lieutenant Calley's conviction and sentencing to life
imprisonment, the White House ordered him removed from confinement
in the stockade and confined to his bachelor's quarters at Fort
Benning, Ga., pending an ultimate decision. Last Aug. 20, Lieut.
Gen. Albert O. Connor, the commanding general of the Third Army
ordered Lieutenant Calley's life sentence reduced to 20 years.
That decision meant that Lieutenant Calley would be eligible for
parole in six to seven years.
The case is to be reviewed by the United States Court of Military
Review, then by the Court of Military Appeals and, finally, by
With the acquittal of Captain Medina, the only officer now standing
trial is Col. Oran K. Henderson. He is accused of attempting to
cover up the mass killings and of later lying about them before
an official board of inquiry.
Of 13 officers and enlisted men who were originally charged
with the killings in Mylai, eight cases were dismissed and there
were four acquittals before the Medina verdict.
The Pentagon said yesterday that no further action was pending
but that the Mylai investigation was not officially closed. Further
legal action would be initiated, a spokesman said, if evidence
warranting it were developed.