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US Army panel overturns 1944 rioting court-martial convictions of black soldiers

[JURIST] The US Army Board for Correction of Military Records [official website] ruled Friday that a group of African-American soldiers court-martialed in 1944 for rioting and attacking Italian POWs held at at Seattle's Fort Lawton should have their convictions overturned. One Italian POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found hanged in the woods the morning after the riots. The ruling applies to Samuel Snow and three other former soldiers now deceased. The board found that the soldiers were denied the sufficient time to prepare a defense and were not allowed access to investigative records. Snow and the families of the deceased soldiers were able to petition the board with the help of US Representatives Jim McDermott [official website] and Duncan Hunter [official website].

The court-martial of the black troops was one of the largest during World War II. The soldiers were awaiting transshipment to New Guinea and were barracked near white Italian POWs who enjoyed better living conditions and fewer restrictions. Tensions broke out into violence one night after members of the two groups had too much to drink and started hurling insults. Originally 43 black soldiers were charged in connection with the incident; 28 of the 43 were convicted of rioting, two were convicted of manslaughter, and some were sentenced to as much as 25 years in prison. Of the 28, only Snow and another soldier are believed to be still alive. The ruling could lead to the convictions of the other 24 soldiers not covered by Friday's decision being overturned, allowing for their honorable discharge, and back pay and benefits for their families. AP has more. The Seattle Times has local coverage.

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