Soldier gets 110 years in rape-slay case

By RYAN LENZ, AP, Aug. 5, 2007

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - A soldier convicted for his role in the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager was sentenced to 110 years in prison, the longest of four soldiers found guilty in the case.

Pfc. Jesse Spielman, who was sentenced Saturday, has the possibility of parole after 10 years. The sentence capped a week of opposing views over Spielman's responsibility in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the slayings of her family.

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 said he went to the house unaware of any plan.

"I don't really blame my chain of command. I don't really blame anybody," he said quietly in a statement to the court before he was sentenced. "I could have stopped it. I take responsibility for my actions."

Spielman was convicted late Friday of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape and four counts of felony murder.

In closing arguments, the military prosecutor, Maj. William Fischbach, said Spielman played a "bit part" but stressed he shared responsibility.

Spielman, 23, of Chambersburg, Pa., was the only soldier to contest his charges. Three other soldiers pleaded guilty under agreements with prosecutors for their roles in the assault and were given sentences ranging from five to 100 years.

Spielman's grandmother, Nancy Hess, collapsed outside the courtroom after the verdict was read; 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 declined to comment after the sentencing hearing. During the court-martial, they said that Spielman was implicated in the attack because of aggressive military investigators who interviewed soldiers for exhaustive periods, yielding conflicting statements.

Spielman had pleaded guilty on Monday to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking. The 110-year sentence encompasses those crimes, too.

The case stemmed from the March 12, 2006, rape and slaying of the Iraqi girl and the killings of her parents and sister. The attack took place in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday amid struggles to overcome a fellow soldier's recanting of a story that Spielman acted as a lookout.

Spc. James Barker said in earlier testimony that he had allowed investigators to draft sworn statements for him that implicated Spielman.

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 Sgt. Paul E. Cortez testified that Spielman stood guard. Cortez said Spielman was within a few feet of the others as they held down the screaming girl and did nothing to stop them.

Barker, Cortez and another soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, pleaded guilty for their roles.

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.

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