A 101st Airborne Division soldier who had been charged with murder in the deaths of three Iraqi detainees pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to nine months in military jail.
Spc. Juston R. Graber, 21, is accused with three others from the division's 187th Infantry Regiment of killing detainees during a raid of a suspected al-Qaida stronghold near Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
They also were accused of trying to deceive investigators by saying the detainees were fleeing when they were shot.
Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker and Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard are awaiting courts-martial in the case.
After the sentence was announced, Graber's attorney patted his back and his mother walked toward him smiling.
Graber earlier told the military judge that once the area was secured during the raid, he went back to a helicopter to get a body bag. He said he heard gunshots and saw the three detainees lying on the ground near the house.
‘I know what I did was wrong’
Two of the detainees appeared to still be alive, Graber said. He testified that Girouard suggested they put one man "out of his misery."
Graber said he then shot the man in the head. Graber told the judge, Col. Theodore Dixon, that he knew Girouard was not ordering him to shoot the detainee and that what he did was unlawful.
"I know what I did was wrong," Graber said.
Graber had also been charged with attempted premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. He pleaded not guilty to both.
Under Tuesday's plea agreement, Graber's rank was reduced from specialist to private. The judge ruled that Graber's sentence could be reduced to six months if he cooperates with prosecutors. He also was ordered to forfeit all pay and allowances for six months.
The case is one of two involving soldiers from the division accused of killing Iraqis during a deployment to Iraq that ended in September.
Four other soldiers from the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team are accused of raping and killing an Iraqi teenager and killing three others in her family last March in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad.