A federal judge in Kentucky has upheld civilian charges against a former 101st Airborne Division soldier accused in the sexual assault of an Iraqi teenager and the slayings of her and her family.
Steven Dale Green's attorneys challenged a law that allowed him to be indicted on civilian charges for alleged crimes that happened in a war zone while he was serving in the Army. He was discharged before the military could bring its own charges.
But U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell, in a series of rulings released Tuesday, upheld the constitutionality of the law and found that Green received due process as his case moved through the judicial system.
Green has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to face trial in April 2009. The 22-year-old from Midland, Texas, faces a possible death sentence if convicted on 16 charges that include premeditated murder and aggravated sexual assault. His lawyers have said they plan to use an insanity defense at trial.
Green's public defender, Patrick Bouldon, said the civilian justice system shouldn't handle cases involving the unfamiliar and extreme setting of a war zone.
"Certainly cases involving soldiers in the midst of a violent war are ones that belong within the military system," he said.
Sandy Focken, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Louisville, said prosecutors would review the rulings.
Others involved admitted to rape, murders
Four other soldiers pleaded guilty or were convicted for their role in targeting the 14-year-old girl from a checkpoint near Mahmoudiya, a village 20 miles south of Baghdad, and helping rape and kill her in 2006.
Two of the soldiers testified they took turns raping the girl while Green shot and killed her mother, father and younger sister. They also testified that Green raped the girl and shot her.
Green's lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a law written in 2000 and amended in 2004 primarily to allow the prosecution of civilian contractors who commit crimes while working for the U.S. overseas.
The attorneys argued their client could face death, a much harsher punishment than his alleged coconspirators received in military court. One soldier charged as an accessory was sentenced to five years, while sentences for three others ranged from 90 to 110 years.
Green had been honorably discharged from the military with psychiatric problems when allegations surfaced of U.S. military involvement in the slayings. He was arrested as a civilian.
The defense claimed discharging Green before he was criminally charged in the military system violated his due process rights. They cite testimony that Green reported his involvement to his commanding sergeant twice and was instructed to leave the military.
Russell ruled that the military did nothing wrong in discharging Green.
"This Court finds that Defendant's discharge was reasonably related to the Government's interest in ensuring that its soldiers are fit to serve," Russell wrote.
Russell also turned down multiple challenges to the federal death penalty act and the notice of intent to seek the death penalty in Green's case.
In a similar case, former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr. is on trial in California, charged with killing unarmed detainees in Iraq. The judge in his case also turned away a constitutional challenge to the law.