updated 3/20/2007 5:20:31 AM ET 2007-03-20T09:20:31

A soldier convicted in the deaths of three Iraqi detainees during a raid on a suspected insurgent camp in Iraq was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday.

Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard, who was found guilty Friday in his court-martial of negligent homicide, faced up to 21 years in prison. He avoided a life sentence when he was found not guilty of premeditated murder.

Along with the three counts of negligent homicide, he was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying to investigators, conspiracy for trying to conceal the crime and failure to obey a general order.

Prosecutors asked jurors to return the maximum sentence, saying Girouard had damaged the Army’s image and became the poster child for war crimes in Iraq.

Girouard “has obliterated the good deeds of every other soldier that follows him,” Capt. William Fischbach said, adding, “He wants you to think he’s a good soldier, a Christian, a hero. He’s none of the above.”

Defense attorneys called on jurors to balance the sentence with his good character, and return a one-year prison sentence.

“You’ve judged the crime, and now you have to judge the man,” said defense attorney Capt. John Merriam.

Earlier in court, Girouard said he knew he made a mistake in lying about the killings and that he hopes his 4-year-old son, Hunter, will learn from his experience.

“There’s a fine line between loyalty and truth,” Girouard said. “Do what is right all the time.”

Girouard was accused of telling his soldiers to release detainees they captured during a May 9 raid near Samarra, Iraq, and then to shoot them as they fled. He is the last and most senior soldier from the 101st Airborne Division to face trial in the killings.

Wanted to protect his soldiers
Girouard testified during the trial that he lied to investigators to protect his soldiers, and that he never told two of his soldiers, Spc. William Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey Clagett, to kill the detainees.

After he discovered the slayings, Girouard said, he decided to help them fake an attack, cutting Hunsaker, punching Clagett in the face and telling superiors his soldiers shot the detainees in self-defense.

Hunsaker, Clagett and another soldier, Spc. Juston Graber, have pleaded guilty to other charges. Hunsaker and Clagett testified that Girouard gave them the orders, while Graber testified that the soldiers were given an option to participate in the plan to kill the detainees.

Clagett and Hunsaker pleaded guilty to murder and were sentenced to 18 years in prison each. Graber pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for killing a wounded detainee and was sentenced to nine months.

Several of Girouard’s friends and relatives described him Monday as having overcome a rough childhood to have close ties with his family.

His grandparents gave a video statement from Sweetwater, Tenn., because his grandfather was too sick to travel.

“We’re more proud of him than ever,” said his grandmother, Patricia Bentley. “He has stood for what’s right and he has never once faltered.”

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