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4 Recommended for Court-Martial in Rape-Murder Case

September 05, 2006|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Four American soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old girl and killing her and her family have been recommended for a courtmartial and could face the death penalty, according to a military report released Monday.

"Reasonable grounds exist to believe that each of the accused committed the offense for which he is charged," U.S. Army investigator Col. Dwight Warren wrote in the report, released to the soldiers and their attorneys Sunday.

The report was released publicly Monday by David Sheldon, a former Navy lawyer now in private practice in Washington, who is representing one of the soldiers, Spc. James P. Barker, 23.

Also accused of rape and murder are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 23; Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19; and Pfc. Jesse Spielman, 21. The four soldiers are charged with raping the girl at her family's home in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, on March 12, then killing the girl, her parents and her 5-year-old sister. Military prosecutors say the soldiers also set the 14-year-old's body on fire in an attempt to conceal their crime.

Two other soldiers also were charged in connection with the killings. Steven D. Green, 21, a former U.S. Army private discharged earlier this year because of a "personality disorder," according to court documents, faces a separate, civilian trial in federal court. Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe is accused of failing to report the attack.

Sheldon said that although his client was at fault in the incident, it was Green who led him astray and who bore most of the blame. Green was "a canister waiting to go off," who should not have been put in a position of responsibility, he said.

"The command knew this, and there were reports showing his deteriorating mental condition," Sheldon said of Green. "To suggest that Spc. Barker deserves the death penalty is far off the mark."

Sheldon made a similar argument during a three-day hearing in Baghdad early last month, held to determine whether the soldiers should be courtmartialed. Sheldon said he was barred from calling additional witnesses to bolster his case.

"The brigade wants to remove its own responsibility in putting these soldiers in a position where they were compromised," he said Monday.

An Army spokesman did not respond to e-mails late Monday.

The soldiers of B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, were on the front lines in Mahmoudiya, patrolling for bombs, and had recently lost several members of their unit. Fellow soldiers testified at the hearing that they had become "full of despair" and resorted to taking painkillers and drinking cough syrup and whiskey.

Attorneys have five days to file objections, Sheldon said. The soldiers would be arraigned either in Baghdad or in the 101st Airborne's home base of Ft. Campbell, Ky., where the court-martial would be convened.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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