FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — A U.S. soldier was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for the gang rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family last year.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, also was given a dishonorable discharge. He will be eligible for parole in 10 years under the terms of his plea agreement.
Cortez, of Barstow, Calif., pleaded guilty this week to four counts of felony murder, rape and conspiracy to rape in a case considered among the worst atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq. In his plea agreement, he said he conspired with three other soldiers from the Fort Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division to rape 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.
The judge accepted Cortez's guilty plea on Wednesday. At a hearing before 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, and a court-martial on those charges was scheduled to begin later Wednesday.
Under terms of the agreement for Cortez’ guilty pleas, he would cooperate with prosecutors and be sentenced to life in prison, plus reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge.
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.
Recalling the incident
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 then 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 drinking whiskey before going to the home, which broke the Army’s rules against drinking alcohol.
2 others await punishment
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.
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.
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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