By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006
One of four U.S. soldiers charged with rape and murder in an attack on an Iraqi teenager and her family in March will no longer face the death penalty. U.S. Army officials dropped the maximum punishment in the case yesterday.
The soldier, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, could still face life in prison if convicted in the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and in the slayings of the girl's parents and young sister, according to an Associated Press report.
Spielman is scheduled to face a jury trial on April 2.
Spec. James P. Barker, 23, another soldier who went to the Mahmudiyah home in what he described as a plot to rape the girl and kill her family, struck a deal in which he pleaded guilty last month to rape and murder, and was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Part of that deal includes testifying against the others. In a court document detailing his version of events, Barker described how he and three soldiers disguised themselves, entered the home, raped the girl and killed her family.
Barker indicated in a written statement to the court that Spielman was part of the plot and was at the home at the time of the attack, but he says Spielman did not fire a weapon in the home and did not rape the girl. Instead, Barker alleges that Spielman fondled her when she was dead. Barker also wrote in court documents that Spielman's lighter was used to ignite a fire in the house -- part of an attempt to conceal evidence of the crime -- and that later Spielman helped to dispose of the rifle used in the attack.
Spielman's lawyer, Craig Carlson, has said in interviews that his client is "a good kid" and that there is no evidence he "murdered or raped anyone."
Spielman and Barker are no longer eligible for the death penalty, but Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, will be, at his court-martial. A fourth soldier who was not at the house but is alleged to have known about the attack before it happened could face a life sentence.
Former private Steven D. Green, 21, alleged to have been the ringleader of the group, left the Army before he was linked to the case. He is now charged in a civilian federal court in Kentucky with murder and rape. He has pleaded not guilty.
Green is accused of killing the teenage girl's father with a U.S. military shotgun before grabbing an AK-47 from the house and using it to kill her mother and sister. Prosecutors say he then raped the teenager and shot her with the rifle.
The shotgun shell, left at the scene, was the piece of evidence that first raised suspicions in the case, according to people familiar with the investigation. Army officials learned of the attack months later, when a soldier came forward.