US Soldier Sentenced to 110 Years in Prison for Rape and Murder of Iraqi Girl

by Medindia Content Team on Aug 6 2007 12:46 PM

Jesse Spielman of Pennsylvania was convicted late Friday of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape and four counts of felony murder.

The case stemmed from the March 12, 2006, rape and slaying of the Iraqi girl and the killings of her parents and sister. The attack took place in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

James P. Barker and Paul E. Cortez, two others accused in the case, have pleaded guilty to several related charges and been dishonorably discharged. Barker was sentenced to 100 years in prison and Cortez was sentenced to 90 years.

A fourth, Steven D. Green, faces a possible death penalty. He is alleged to have spearheaded the attack on the Iraqi family, killing the girl's father, mother and younger sister before raping and killing the teenager and then burning her body. He was discharged from the Army in May 2006 because of an "anti-social personality disorder" and is being prosecuted in a civilian court.

Another soldier, Bryan Howard, has pleaded guilty and was sentenced in March to 27 months confinement, a rank reduction to private and a dishonorable discharge.

A sixth, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, was not alleged to have been a participant but has been charged with failing to report the rape and killings.

All the men are from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

Spielman's grandmother, Nancy Hess, collapsed outside the courtroom after the verdict was read Saturday.

Spielman's sister, Paige Gerlach, screamed: "I hate the government. You people put him (in Iraq) and now, this happened."

Military prosecutors did not say Spielman took part in the rape or murders but alleged he went to the house knowing what the others intended to do and served as a lookout.

"I don't really blame my chain of command. I don't really blame anybody," he said quietly in a statement to the court before he was sentenced. "I could have stopped it. I take responsibility for my actions."

During their courts-martial, James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez testified they took turns raping the girl while then 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.

Both said that Spielman stood guard. Cortez said Spielman was within a few feet of the others as they held down the screaming girl and did nothing to stop them.

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

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

Barker described in detail how he raped Abeer Qassim al-Janabi with Cortez and Green before Green killed the girl, her younger sister and parents.

"Cortez pushed her to the ground. I went towards the top of her and kind of held her hands down while Cortez proceeded to lift her dress up," he said. "Around that time I heard shots coming from a room next door."

Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and murders but said Spielman went along to the house knowing what the others intended to do. Prosecutors said Howard had been left behind at a checkpoint.

"They gathered over cards and booze to come up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl," prosecutors said. "She was young and attractive. They knew where she was because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable."

Army investigator Benjamin Bierce testified that Barker told authorities the soldiers were drinking whiskey, playing cards and hitting golf balls when Green brought up the idea of raping the girl.

Sometime during the assault, Barker said, he heard gunshots come from a bedroom, where the girl's parents and sister had been taken, and an agitated Green emerged saying he had killed them, Bierce said.

Barker had wept during his closing statement, accepted responsibility for the rape and killings and said violence he encountered left him embittered toward Iraqis.

"I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did," Barker said, his voice quivering. "I do not ask anyone to forgive me today."

The killings in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad, were among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by military personnel in Iraq.

"To live there, to survive there, I became angry and mean. The mean part of me made me strong on patrols. It made me brave in fire fights," Barker said. "I loved my friends, my fellow soldiers and my leaders, but I began to hate everyone else in Iraq."

Some of Barker's fellow soldiers testified on his behalf, describing weeks with little support and sleep while manning distant checkpoints.

"The bottom line is they were not giving the soldiers the tools, were not giving the soldiers the combat stress treatment, were not giving them enough troops on the ground to fulfill their mission," defense attorney David Sheldon had said after the sentencing.

Capt. William Fischbach, the lead prosecutor, told the court that whatever the conditions they had worked in, they were no excuse for Barker, who led the group to the family's house, and that no one deserved such unspeakable horrors.

"This burned-out corpse that used to be a 14-year-old girl never fired bullets or lobbed mortars," Fischbach said as he held pictures of the crime scene.