updated 9/29/2007 8:28:28 AM ET 2007-09-29T12:28:28

A military panel on Saturday sentenced an Army sniper to five months in prison, a reduction in rank and forfeiture of pay for planting evidence in connection with the deaths of two Iraqi civilians.

Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, was acquitted of murder charges in the April and May deaths of two unidentified men. The panel decided he was guilty of a lesser charges of placing detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.

"I feel fortunate that I have been served this sentence," Sandoval said. "I'm grateful that I'm able to continue to be in the Army."

Because he will receive credit for time served and good behavior, Sandoval must now spend 44 more days behind bars before he can return to his unit, his lawyer said. His rank will be reduced to private and he will forfeit his pay for the period of confinement.

The prosecution had argued Sandoval should be sentenced to five years in prison.

Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas, had faced five charges in the deaths of the two unidentified Iraqi men. In dramatic testimony during the two-day court-martial, Sandoval's colleagues testified they were following orders when they shot the men during two separate incidents near Iskandariyah, a volatile Sunni-dominated area 30 miles south of Baghdad, on April 27 and May 11.

Separate trials
Sgt. Evan Vela and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are both charged in the case and will be tried separately. All three soldiers are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Gary Myers, one of Vela's lawyers, claimed this week that Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, then kill those who picked up the items. He said his client was acting on orders.

Asked about the existence of the "baiting program," Capt. Craig Drummond, Sandoval's military defense attorney, said it was unclear "what programs were going on out there and when," especially "if there were things that were done that made the rules of engagement not clear."

Hensley's court-martial is set to begin Oct. 22, while Vela's pretrial hearing likely will start next week.

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