By Ryan Lenz
Sunday, August 5, 2007
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Aug. 4 -- A soldier convicted of rape and murder in an attack on a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family was sentenced Saturday to 110 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 10 years.
The sentence was part of a plea agreement that attorneys for Pfc. Jesse Spielman had made with prosecutors, which set the number of years he could serve in prison, regardless of the jury's recommendation.
The jury had recommended life with parole, a sentence under which he would have had to wait longer for the possibility of freedom.
Spielman was convicted Friday of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape and four counts of felony murder.
Military prosecutors did not say Spielman took part in the rape or murders but alleged that he went to the house knowing what the others intended to do and served as a lookout.
Spielman took the stand to petition jurors for leniency before he was sentenced.
"I don't really blame my chain of command. I don't really blame anybody," he said quietly. "I could have stopped it. I take responsibility for my actions."
Spielman, 23, of Chambersburg, Pa., received the longest sentence of four soldiers who have been convicted. Three other soldiers pleaded guilty under agreements with prosecutors for their roles in the assault and were given sentences ranging from five to 100 years.
Spielman's grandmother, Nancy Hess, collapsed outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. Soldiers in Spielman's unit fanned the woman with napkins.
Spielman's sister, Paige Gerlach, screamed: "I hate the government. You people put him [in Iraq], and now, this happened."
Defense attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing.
Spielman had pleaded guilty Monday to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking. The 110-year sentence encompasses those crimes, too.
The case stemmed from the March 12, 2006, rape and slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, 14, and the killings of her parents and sister in Mahmudiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard pleaded guilty for their roles. Steven D. Green, who was discharged from the Army before being charged, faces a possible death sentence when he is tried in federal court in Kentucky. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that include murder and sexual assault.