Court-martials ordered for 8 soldiers on murder charges stemming from Iraq service

Wednesday, October 18th 2006, 9:44 pm
By: News On 6

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) -- Eight soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were ordered Wednesday to be court-martialed on murder charges stemming from their service in Iraq, and two could get the death penalty for allegedly raping a 14-year-old and killing her
and her family.

The Fort Campbell soldiers facing the death penalty are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman. Both are accused of raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, then killing the girl, her parents and younger sister.

Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are also accused in the rape and murders but will not face the death penalty, the military said in a statement.

Barker's attorney, David Sheldon in Washington, D.C., said that Barker has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against others, including former Army Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina.

Sheldon also said that he and prosecutors have signed a plea agreement, but wouldn't discuss details. Any agreement would still have to be approved by the court.

"One of the things that the government factors is cooperation of co-accused. And I would certainly think that is a factor in who faces the death penalty in this and who doesn't," Sheldon said.

Green, who has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder, will be tried in federal court in Kentucky.

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.

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.

In statements given to military investigators, Spielman was described as a "look-out" while the others entered the home. His attorneys said they were shocked that he faces a death penalty.

"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.

Several of the soldiers have military defense attorneys, who are prohibited from discussing their cases outside of a courtroom.

Four soldiers from the division's 3rd Brigade also will be tried in a separate court-martial on charges of murdering Iraqi detainees in northern Iraq's Salahuddin province during a raid on a village.

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.

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 on the girl but is not alleged to have been a direct participant. Yribe has requested a discharge from the Army in lieu of a court-martial.