FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Feb. 21 -- A military judge on Wednesday approved a second U.S. soldier's guilty plea to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her and her family.
But in a court-martial later in the day, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, was found not guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in the March 2006 incident.
Cortez had entered a guilty plea Tuesday to four murders, rape and conspiracy to rape. With the approval of the plea agreement by the judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, Cortez will avoid the death penalty.
At a hearing before Henley's decision on the guilty plea, Cortez broke down in tears while recounting events on the day of the attack. He described his role and that of Spec. James P. Barker, who is already sentenced to 90 years in military prison.
"I lifted up her skirt and took off her stockings while Barker held her hands with his knees," he said before admitting that he raped the teenager as she screamed. "After I was done, myself and Barker switched spots."
Under terms of the agreement for Cortez's guilty pleas, he will cooperate with prosecutors and be sentenced to life in prison, plus reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge. Whether he is eligible for parole will be decided at sentencing, set for Thursday.
In the plea agreement, read in court Tuesday, Cortez said he conspired with three other soldiers -- Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Steven D. Green, who has been discharged -- to rape 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.
According to the plea deal, Cortez, Spielman and Barker illegally went into the home of the girl's family in Mahmudiyah, and Cortez held her while Barker raped her. While Cortez raped her, Green shot and killed the girl's parents and younger sister, the agreement said.
Cortez then acted as a lookout while Green raped the girl, and Green shot her, the document said. Cortez helped burn the girl's body and the home, then burned his clothes.
All the suspected participants are or were members of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee line.