FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Feb. 20 -- A U.S. soldier pleaded guilty Tuesday to rape and murder in the death of a 14-year-old girl and her family last year in Iraq. A judge has not yet accepted the plea.
The military court still must decide whether the killings were premeditated and will hear evidence Wednesday.
The court will consider whether Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, of Barstow, Calif., should be found guilty of premeditated murder and whether he is guilty of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, defense lawyer William Cassara said.
Cortez was one of four soldiers charged in the March killing of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, 14, and her family in Mahmudiyah. All the suspected participants are or were members of the 101st Airborne Division.
In a plea agreement read in court Tuesday, Cortez said he conspired with three other soldiers -- Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Spec. James P. Barker and Steven D. Green, who has since been discharged -- to rape the girl. Cortez said he helped burn the girl's body and the home, then burned his clothes.
Barker, 24, pleaded guilty in November to rape and murder and was sentenced to 90 years in military prison. Spielman, 22, and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 23, await courts-martial.
Green, 21, is charged in federal court in Kentucky. He is being tried as a civilian because he was discharged before his superiors were aware of his suspected involvement.