Soldiers convicted of rape, murder in Iraq

A military jury found a soldier guilty of rape and murder in the slayings of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family, despite testimony that cast doubt on his involvement.

Jurors deliberated much of Friday evening before convicting Army Pfc. Jesse Spielman, 22, of conspiracy to commit rape, rape, housebreaking with intent to commit rape and four counts of felony murder.

He faces a mandatory life sentence when a sentencing hearing begins Saturday. The jury will decide if he will be eligible for parole.

Spielman, of Chambersburg, Pa., was charged in connection with the March 12, 2006, rape and slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killings of her family. The attack took place in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Military prosecutors did not say Spielman took part in the rape or murders, but alleged he went to the house knowing what the others intended to do and served as a lookout.

Spielman had pleaded guilty on Monday to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking.

Spielman’s grandmother, Nancy Hess, collapsed outside the courtroom after the verdict was read and prosecutor Maj. William Fischbach ran to her side and called 911. 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 left the courthouse immediately following the verdict and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday amid struggles to overcome a fellow soldier’s recanting of a story that Spielman acted as a lookout during the attack last year.

Spc. James Barker, who has admitted his own role in the assault, said in earlier testimony that he had allowed investigators to draft sworn statements for him that implicated Spielman in the crime.

Barker testified Wednesday that several portions of the document were untrue, including references to Spielman’s role in the conspiracy to attack the family and his knowledge of plans to rape the girl.

But another soldier convicted in the attack, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, testified that Spielman stood guard as his fellow soldiers raped the girl. Cortez said Spielman was within a few feet of the others as they held down the screaming girl but did nothing to stop them.

Barker, Cortez and another soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, pleaded guilty for their roles in the slayings and received sentences of five to 100 years under plea agreements with prosecutors.

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.

Barker and Cortez have given investigators conflicting statements about whether Spielman knew of the plan to rape the girl and was present when they discussed it over swigs from bottles of whiskey and gin mixed with energy drinks, according to testimony.

During their courts-martial, Barker and Cortez testified they took turns raping the girl while Green shot and killed her mother, father and younger sister. Green shot the girl in the head after raping her, they said.

The girl’s body was set on fire with kerosene to destroy the evidence, according to previous testimony.

Fort Campbell is a sprawling military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.