COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - It was a homecoming for a veteran who says he was wrongly imprisoned for war crimes, and supporters say his release was a long time coming.
“It just touches your heart when you see everybody come out here,” First Sergeant John Hatley said.
Sirens blared and people cheered for First Sgt. Hatley coming home after more than a decade in prison for war crimes he says did not happen. And it was an emotional return to central Texas.
“As soon as I saw my folks, I was just overwhelmed. I love them because of their support and they’re the greatest people I know,” Hatley said.
The community came together to welcome Hatley home, with American flags and signs. Well wishers, who came out to show support for the former soldier, say he never lost faith, after a dozen years.
“I know, had I been in his shoes and I had to be accused of a crime I didn’t commit and spend 12 years of my life in prison, I’d be a bitter man. This man’s got the greatest attitude of any man I’ve met in my life,” John’s brother-in-law Ricky Rand said.
“I’m out here because I support him and because he’s coming home. He’s finally coming home!” family friend Beth Hewitt said.
While the fight for his full pardon continues, First Sgt. Hatley says he is just happy to be surrounded by family once again.
“I’m just so happy that I’m finally able to just see all the people that’ve missed me. To be able to come home and see my parents again, have them meet my beautiful wife and spend the rest of my life here, I plan on dying here,” Hatley said.
Hatley was convicted in a military court for the deaths of four Iraqi detainees, a crime his lawyers argued there was never any evidence to support.