Soldier sentenced to 90 years with possibility of parole in Iraqi rape case

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 9:49 pm
By: News On 6

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) -- A soldier was sentenced Thursday to 90 years in prison with the possibility of parole for conspiring to rape a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and kill her and her family.

Spc. James P. Barker, one of four Fort Campbell soldiers accused in the March 12 rape and killings, pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to testify against the others to avoid the death penalty.

Under the plea agreement, Barker got a life sentence but will not serve more than 90 years in prison, said Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, the military judge presiding over the court-martial. He will be eligible for parole in 20 years.

Barker, 23, showed no reaction when the sentence was read. Afterward, he smoked a cigarette outside as a bailiff watched over him. He grinned but said nothing as reporters passed by.

Barker wept during his closing statement, accepted responsibility for the rape and killings and said violence he encountered left him embittered toward Iraqis.

"I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did," Barker said, his voice quivering. "I do not ask anyone to forgive me today."

The killings in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad, were among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by military personnel in Iraq.

"To live there, to survive there, I became angry and mean. The mean part of me made me strong on patrols. It made me brave in fire fights," Barker said. "I loved my friends, my fellow soldiers and my leaders, but I began to hate everyone else in Iraq."

Some of Barker's fellow soldiers testified on his behalf, describing weeks with little support and sleep while manning distant checkpoints.

"The bottom line is they were not giving the soldiers the tools, were not giving the soldiers the combat stress treatment, were not giving them enough troops on the ground to fulfill their mission," defense attorney David Sheldon said after the sentencing.

Capt. William Fischbach, the lead prosecutor, told the court that such conditions were no excuse for Barker, who led the group to the family's house, and that no one deserved such unspeakable horrors.

"This burned-out corpse that used to be a 14-year-old girl never fired bullets or lobbed mortars," Fischbach said as he held pictures of the crime scene.

The defendants are accused of burning the girl's body to conceal the crime.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, has deferred entering a plea, and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, will be arraigned in December. Both are members of the 101st Airborne Division along with Barker and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, also deferred entering a plea at his arraignment in October. He does not face the death penalty.

Steven Green, 21, pleaded not guilty last week to civilian charges including murder and sexual assault. The former private was discharged for a "personality disorder" before the allegations became known, and prosecutors have yet to say whether they will pursue the death penalty against him.

In earlier testimony, Barker described in detail how he raped Abeer Qassim al-Janabi with Cortez and Green before Green killed the girl, her younger sister and parents.

"Cortez pushed her to the ground. I went towards the top of her and kind of held her hands down while Cortez proceeded to lift her dress up," he said. "Around that time I heard shots coming from a room next door."

Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and murders but said Spielman went along to the house knowing what the others intended to do. Prosecutors said Howard had been left behind at a checkpoint.