Jury weighs sentence for soldier in rape, murder of Iraqi girl

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) - A military jury heard arguments
Saturday about whether a soldier who was to be sentenced to life in prison in the slayings of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family
should be eligible for parole.

Jurors deliberated much of Friday evening before convicting Pfc.
Jesse Spielman, 22, of conspiracy to commit rape, rape,
housebreaking with intent to commit rape and four counts of felony
murder, despite testimony that cast doubt on his involvement.

Spielman, of Chambersburg, Pa., faces a mandatory life sentence,
but the jury could allow him to become eligible for parole

He was charged in connection with the March 12, 2006, rape and
slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killings of her family.
The attack took place in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south
of Baghdad.

Military prosecutors did not say Spielman took part in the rape
or murders, but alleged he went to the house knowing what the
others intended to do and served as a lookout.

Spielman had pleaded guilty on Monday to lesser charges of
conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a
corpse and drinking.

Spielman's grandmother, Nancy Hess, collapsed outside the
courtroom after the verdict was read and prosecutor Maj. William
Fischbach ran to her side and called 911. Soldiers in Spielman's
unit fanned the woman with napkins.

Spielman's sister, Paige Gerlach, screamed: "I hate the
government. You people put him (in Iraq) and now, this happened."

Defense attorneys left the courthouse immediately following the
verdict and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday amid struggles to
overcome a fellow soldier's recanting of a story that Spielman
acted as a lookout during the attack last year.

Spc. James Barker, who has admitted his own role in the assault,
said in earlier testimony that he had allowed investigators to
draft sworn statements for him that implicated Spielman in the

Barker testified Wednesday that several portions of the document
were untrue, including references to Spielman's role in the
conspiracy to attack the family and his knowledge of plans to rape
the girl.

But another soldier convicted in the attack, Sgt. Paul E.
Cortez, testified that Spielman stood guard as his fellow soldiers
raped the girl. Cortez said Spielman was within a few feet of the
others as they held down the screaming girl but did nothing to stop

Barker, Cortez and another soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard,
pleaded guilty for their roles in the slayings and received
sentences of five to 100 years under plea agreements with

Steven D. Green, who was discharged from the Army before being
charged, faces a possible death sentence when he is tried in
federal court in Kentucky. He has pleaded not guilty to charges
that include murder and sexual assault.

Barker and Cortez have given investigators conflicting
statements about whether Spielman knew of the plan to rape the girl
and was present when they discussed it over swigs from bottles of
whiskey and gin mixed with energy drinks, according to testimony.

During their courts-martial, Barker and Cortez testified they
took turns raping the girl while Green shot and killed her mother,
father and younger sister. Green shot the girl in the head after
raping her, they said.

The girl's body was set on fire with kerosene to destroy the
evidence, according to previous testimony.

Fort Campbell is a sprawling military post on the
Kentucky-Tennessee border.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-08-04-07 1359EDT

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