An ex-soldier convicted of raping and killing an Iraqi teen and murdering her family was spared the death penalty Thursday and will serve a life sentence after jurors couldn't agree unanimously on a punishment for a brutal crime that the defense blamed partly on combat stress and a lack of military leadership.
After an afternoon of card playing, sex talk and drinking Iraqi whiskey, Pfc. Steven Dale Green, 24, of Midland, Texas, and three other soldiers in March 2006 went to the home of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Green shot and killed the teen's mother, father and sister, then became the third soldier to rape the girl before shooting her in the face.
Federal jurors who convicted Green of rape and murder on May 7 told the judge they couldn't agree on the appropriate sentence after deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days. Their choices were a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Since they could not unanimously agree on either sentence, life in prison had to be the verdict.
Green's father, John, and brother, Doug, sighed as the verdict was read.
"It's the better of two bad choices," said John Green, also of Midland, Texas.
His son will be sentenced Sept. 4 by U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell. Jurors were escorted out of the courthouse and when asked if they wanted to talk about the decision, several shook their heads.
Never denied involvement
Green's attorneys never denied Green's involvement in the attack, instead focusing on building a case that he didn't deserve the death penalty. They presented former Marines and other soldiers with whom Green served who testified that he faced an unusually stressful combat tour in Iraq in a unit that suffered heavy casualties and didn't receive sufficient Army leadership while serving in Iraq's "Triangle of Death."
Enemy attacks killed two command sergeants, a lieutenant and a specialist in Green's unit over 12 days in December 2005. Jurors also were told that Green's unit was left alone to run a traffic checkpoint for several weeks without a break.
The other soldiers who attacked the family are serving lengthy sentences in military prison, but will be eligible for parole. They testified against Green, who was tried in federal court as a civilian because he had been discharged from the Army before his arrest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford said in a statement that prosecutors have "the utmost respect" for the jury's decision.
"This trial represents some of the most important principles of our Constitution and our democracy in action," Ford said. "The decision of how justice would be best served was left to the people."
One of Green's attorneys, Darren Wolff of Louisville, said his client twice offered to plead guilty, but the U.S. Justice Department refused amid international pressure for a conviction.
"Mr. Green will spend the rest of his life in jail and the events of March 12, 2006, have forever changed the lives of many," Wolff said. "It is a tragic case on so many levels."
Combat stress a theme
The issue of combat stress was one theme but not the only at Green's trial, which was reaching the penalty phase as unrelated events unfolded at a military mental health clinic in Iraq. Just as the penalty phase of the trial was opening, an Army sergeant was arrested and accused of the May 11 shooting deaths of five colleagues at a combat stress clinic in Baghdad.
However, the judge had admonished jurors not to watch news broadcasts or read newspapers.
Jurors heard testimony from an Army nurse practitioner who saw Green for combat stress, 11 days after two sergeants were killed by an insurgent.
Green told the nurse that he wanted to kill Iraqi civilians and he found the mission "pointless," using an expletive. He was given medicine to help him sleep and he returned to his unit less than three months before the attack.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys sought to paint a picture of the "Triangle of Death" as the most dangerous area of the most dangerous country on Earth — and a place where Green and his fellow soldiers served without adequate leadership.
The trial was held in western Kentucky because Green was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., on the Tennessee border.
Doug Green, 26, said the jury reached the appropriate decision.
"I do think it gives him a chance to have some semblance of a life," Doug Green said. "We're grateful for that."