Court to consider guilty plea by soldier accused of raping, killing Iraqi teenager

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- A U.S. soldier pleaded guilty Tuesday to rape and murder in the death of a 14-year-old girl and her family last year in Iraq. A judge has not yet accepted the plea.

The military court still must decide whether the killings were premeditated and will hear evidence Wednesday.

In a plea agreement read in court Tuesday, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, of Barstow, Calif., said he conspired with three other soldiers -- Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Spc. James P. Barker and Steven D. Green, who has since been discharged -- to rape the 14-year-old girl.

According to the plea deal, Cortez, Spielman and Barker illegally went into the home of the girl's family in Mahmoudiya, and Cortez held her while Barker raped her. While Cortez raped her, Green shot and killed the girl's parents and younger sister, the agreement said.

Cortez then acted as a lookout while Green raped the girl, and Green shot her, the document said. Cortez helped burn the girl's body and the home, then burned his clothes.

Spielman threw the AK-47 used to kill the family in a canal, the deal said. Cortez also admitted to drinking whiskey before going to the home, which broke the Army's rules against drinking alcohol.

Cortez was charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to premeditated murder, rape and conspiracy to rape but pleaded guilty to murder, rape and conspiracy to rape. The judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, adjourned the case until Wednesday.

Cortez kept his eyes down during the proceeding except when he was addressing Henley.

Another soldier has already pleaded guilty in the case, and an ex-soldier accused of being the ringleader is awaiting trial in civilian court. Two other soldiers await courts-martial. All the suspected participants are or were members of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

The March 2006 killing of the family was originally reported to be the work of insurgents. Later, soldiers told their superiors of their suspicion that U.S. soldiers were involved. The deaths are considered among the worst in a series of alleged atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

Barker, 24, pleaded guilty in November to rape and murder and was sentenced to 90 years in military prison. Spielman, 22, and Bryan L. Howard, 23, await courts-martial. Howard, who is confined to the post, was in the courtroom Tuesday observing Cortez's case.

Spielman's attorneys have said they can prove that he was not involved in rape and murder.

Green is charged in federal court in Kentucky, accused of being the ringleader. He is being tried as a civilian because he was discharged from the Army before his superiors were aware of his suspected involvement.

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