Eight soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division will be court-martialed on murder charges stemming from their service in Iraq, including two soldiers who could face a death sentence if convicted on charges they raped a 14-year-old girl and killed her and her family in March, the military ordered Wednesday.
The Fort Campbell soldiers who could face death are Sgt. Paul E.
Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, the military said in a
statement. Both are accused of raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her
family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, then
killing her along with her parents and younger sister.
Former Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality
disorder and arrested in North Carolina, will be tried in federal
court in Kentucky.
In an FBI affidavit, Green was described as central to the rape and murders. Green has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four
counts of murder.
Spielman's attorneys said they were shock that their client was
given a death penalty referral when evidence does not implicate him
in either the murders or rape. In statements given to military investigators and later discussed during a hearing in August, Spielman was described only as a "look-out" while the others entered the home.
"Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney. "It surprises me that they're treating him like they're treating Green."
According to FBI affidavits and soldiers' statements to investigators, Green was alleged to have shot the family. Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are also accused in the rape and murders, but will not face a death sentence if convicted, the military said.
The soldiers facing the possible death sentences could also receive less severe punishment by a military judge if found guilty.
Military defense attorneys are prohibited from discussing their cases outside of a courtroom. Messages seeking comment were left with Barker's attorney, David Sheldon in Washington, D.C.
Military prosecutors have said the five - all from the division's 502nd Infantry Regiment - planned the attack from a checkpoint near the family's home, changed their clothing to hide their identities and set the girl's body on fire to destroy evidence.
Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Turner has not yet ruled on whether to order a court-martial for Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, who is accused of
failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a
direct participant. Yribe has requested a discharge from the Army
in lieu of a court-martial.
Their unit suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades. Defense attorneys have argued that soldiers of
every rank were emotionally ragged and strained. U.S. officials in Iraq were concerned in the aftermath of the case that allegations would strain relations with Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceived soldiers receive lenient treatment.
The case also increased demands for changes in an agreement that
exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Four soldiers from the division's 3rd Brigade "Rakkasans" also will be tried in a separate court-martial on charges of murdering
Iraqi detainees in northern Iraq's northern Salahuddin province
during a raid on a village, the military said. Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murdering three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Dates have not been set for either court-martial to be held at
Fort Campbell, an Army post along the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)