(AP Photo/Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office)
Bryan Howard, a former private first class in the 101st Airborne Division, told jurors Friday that defendant Steven Dale Green offered to take the blame for the slayings if they were traced back to American soldiers.
"I remember him saying just blame it on him," said Howard, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and being an accessory after the fact to the March 12, 2006, attack on the al-Janabi family. He testified Friday that he remained at a checkpoint while other soldiers went to the home of the family that was attacked.
Howard's testimony came on the fifth day of Green's federal trial on charges that he raped 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and killed her and her family near Mahmoudiya, Iraq, south of Baghdad. Federal prosecutors say Green was the third soldier to rape Abeer, then shot her in the head just after killing her mother, father and younger sister.
Green is the one accused of actually shooting the family, though other soldiers pleaded guilty to or were convicted of murder charges for their roles.
Green, 23, from Midland, Texas, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors say they'll ask the jury for a death sentence if Green is convicted. He is being tried in civilian court because he was discharged from the Army before charges were brought in the case.
Former specialist James Paul Barker said he could have stepped in after initially planning the attack with Green. But, Barker said, he didn't and he knew someone was going to kill the al-Janabi family once the soldiers made their way to the house.
Defense attorney Darren Wolff asked Barker if he would have shot the al-Janabi family if Green had not.
"Yes," Barker replied.
Wolff asked, "You knew that was an end result?"
"Yes," Barker replied.
Barker, who is serving a 90-year sentence in military prison for his role in the attack, told Green's attorneys he feels responsible for the deaths of the al-Janabi family.
"I should have had more sense than that," Barker said. "It was against everything, how I felt, how I was raised. In a way, it was barbaric."
Another soldier with the same unit, Paul Cortez of Barstow, Calif., told jurors Friday that Barker and Green directed the attack, but that he didn't know ahead of time the family would be killed.
"I didn't know that was the intention," Cortez said. "Stuff just went crazy. Nobody could control what happened. It just went crazy."
Defense attorneys have asked jurors to consider the "context" in which the crime took place. They say Green and his fellow soldiers were stressed by the deaths of colleagues and the military did little to help them.
Cortez, who is serving a 90-year sentence for his role in the rape and murder, told jurors he directed the destruction of two pieces of evidence taken from the house. Cortez said he burned a shotgun shell found in the room where several family members were shot to keep military investigators from finding it.
"I knew that if they found it, they would probably suspect American soldiers had did it," said Cortez, who also told jurors how he pleaded guilty to rape, murder and other charges in military court.
Several soldiers, including Barker, testified that American troops used shotguns to shoot off locks. Shotguns, they said, were not commonly used by Iraqi troops or insurgents.
Green took the family's AK-47 machine gun from the house, Cortez said. Cortez said another soldier was told to throw the weapon into a canal.
Barker also pleaded guilty in military court to charges including rape and murder. Both he and Cortez said they were testifying in hopes of getting parole or having their sentences reduced.
Howard, who served 27 months in military prison, also told jurors that all the soldiers involved agreed not to discuss what happened. Other than Green, who talked to fellow soldiers soon after the attacks, the agreement held together for three months, until Army criminal investigators began looking into the deaths, Howard said.
"Eventually, I confessed," Howard said.