Court-martial to begin for soldier charged with Iraq rape, murder

By RYAN LENZ Associated Press Writer

Spc. Jesse Spielman crept alongside three soldiers as they cut through wire fences to enter the home of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was raped and killed, his attorneys acknowledge.

But at issue when his court-martial begins Monday at Fort Campbell, Ky., will be whether Spielman, 22, of Chambersburg, Pa., was aware of what horrors lay ahead when the soldiers left their outpost.

Defense attorney Craig Carlson of Austin, Texas, said Spielman had no idea where the soldiers were going or what they planned to do. It seemed another routine raid on a home in an area gripped by insurgents, Carlson said.

"We're confident that the soldiers (in the jury) will hear the evidence and render a fair and just verdict," Carlson said.

He declined to discuss the specific evidence he will present during trial. Spielman faces charges of rape and murder stemming from the March 12, 2006, assault on a family midway through a yearlong deployment for the Fort Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division.

The slayings came amid a series of alleged war atrocities and have been considered among the worst by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

Three soldiers have since pleaded guilty for their roles in the crimes and received sentences ranging from five to 100 years.

During their courts-martial, Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez testified they took turns raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi while then-Pfc. Steven D. Green shot and killed her mother, father and younger sister.

Green, who is accused of being the ringleader, shot Abeer in the head after raping her, they said.

The girl's body was then set on fire with kerosene to destroy the evidence, according to testimony and military documents.

Green was discharged from the military before being charged and will face the possibility of the death penalty when he is tried in federal court in Kentucky.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and sexual assault. No trial date has been set.

No one has implicated Spielman directly in the assault, but two soldiers have said Spielman knew of the plan to rape the girl in Mahmoudiya, a village 20 miles south of Baghdad, and was present when they hammered out details over swigs on a bottle of Iraqi whiskey.

Barker, who pleaded guilty in November to rape and murder, said Spielman came to the home knowing of the plans. Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, who stayed at the checkpoint to monitor radios, testified during a hearing in March that he overheard Spielman and the others discuss the rape beforehand.

Howard pleaded guilty to being an accessory to rape and murder. Cortez also pleaded guilty in the case.

Spielman is not accused of raping and killing Abeer or slaying her family. Instead prosecutors say he knew of the plan, did nothing to stop it once it began and touched the girl's naked body before the soldiers left, according to military charging documents released at the time of his arrest.

Those documents also said Spielman was the only soldier wearing a military uniform when they entered the home.

The others had changed into black nylon pants and shirts with cloth to cover their faces. Attorneys say that difference illustrates Spielman's ignorance of what the others came to do.

Under military law, however, a soldier present when a crime occurs can be found guilty if prosecutors can establish the soldier had prior knowledge.

Prosecutors also contend Spielman had a pattern of hostility toward Iraqis before the slaying.

During a hearing last month, a military judge said he would allow testimony during the court-martial that Spielman had participated in abusing Iraqi detainees during an earlier patrol.

"I don't care if they live or die," Pfc. Thomas Doss testified recalling Spielman say of three detainees. "They will either support insurgents or breed insurgents. I want them dead."

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