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Soldier gets 100 years in prison in rape, 4 slayings

Sgt. Paul Cortez, 24, of Barstow is sentenced in the attack on an Iraqi girl and her family. Three await trial.

February 23, 2007|From the Associated Press

FT. CAMPBELL, KY. — A soldier from Barstow was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for raping an Iraqi girl and murdering her and her family last year.

Army Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, will be eligible for parole in 10 years under the terms of his plea agreement. He also was given a dishonorable discharge.

Cortez pleaded guilty this week to four counts of felony murder, rape and conspiracy to rape in a case considered among the worst atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

In his plea agreement, he said he conspired with three other soldiers from the Ft. Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division to rape 14-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza Janabi. The girl, her parents and a younger sister were all killed.

Earlier Thursday, tears rolled down Cortez's face as he apologized for the rape and murders. He said he could not explain why he took part.

"I still don't have an answer," Cortez told the judge. "I don't know why. I wish I hadn't. The lives of four innocent people were taken. I want to apologize for all of the pain and suffering I have caused the Al Janabi family."

The military judge hearing the case, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley, issued a sentence of life in prison without parole, the maximum for the charges. Under military law, the defendant is given the lesser sentence unless he violates terms of the plea agreement, which requires Cortez to testify against others charged in the case.

Psychologist Charles Figley testified that Cortez and the other soldiers had probably suffered stress brought on by fatigue and trauma. "It eats you up," Figley said. "It's a horrible thing. This is not unique. We've seen this in other wars."

Five soldiers who served with Cortez in Iraq testified that his actions were out of character and described war's hardships.

"I just never would have seen it coming," said Staff Sgt. Tim Briggs, who has known Cortez for five years and served with him in Iraq.

Prosecutors said the stress was no excuse for the actions of Cortez and the other soldiers.

On Wednesday, Cortez described raping the girl in her family's home in Mahmoudiya in March, along with Spc. James P. Barker, 24.

Barker pleaded guilty in November to rape and murder and was sentenced to 90 years in military prison.

Cortez said this week that then-Pfc. Steven D. Green raped the girl in front of him; shot her father, mother and sister; and then shot her in the head. He also testified that the soldiers attempted to burn the girl's body; burned their own clothes; and threw the murder weapon, an AK-47, into a canal.

Cortez was found not guilty of more serious charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.

Pfcs. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, and Bryan L. Howard, 19, await courts-martial. Green, who is accused of being the ringleader but was discharged from the military before being charged, will be prosecuted in a federal court in Kentucky.

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