- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — A military judge yesterday approved a second U.S. soldier’s plea to the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her family.

Paul E. Cortez, 24, entered the plea Tuesday to four murders, rape and conspiracy to rape. With the approval of the plea agreement by Col. Stephen R. Henley, Cortez will avoid the death penalty.

At a hearing before Col. Henley’s decision, Cortez broke down in tears while recounting events on the day of the attack, saying he held the girl down and acted as a lookout while others took turns attacking her.

Cortez had pleaded not guilty to separate charges of conspiracy to premeditated murder and premeditated murder. A court-martial on those charges was scheduled to begin later yesterday.

Under terms of the agreement for Cortez’s guilty pleas, he would cooperate with prosecutors and be sentenced to life in prison. Plus, he would get a reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge. Whether he would be eligible for parole would be decided at sentencing after the outcome of the court-martial on the premeditation charges.

In the plea agreement, read in court Tuesday, Cortez said he conspired with three other soldiers — Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Spc. James P. Barker and Steven D. Green, who has been discharged — to rape 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.

According to the plea deal, Cortez, Pfc. 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, Mr. Green shot and killed the girl’s parents and younger sister, the agreement said.

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

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

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 line.

The March 2006 killing of the family was originally reported to be the work of insurgents. It was considered among the worst in a series of purported 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. Pfc. Spielman, 22, and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 23, await courts-martial. Howard, who is confined to the post, was in the courtroom Tuesday observing Cortez’s case.

Mr. 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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