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December 14th, 2006 - Iraq Veteran Won’t Face Death Penalty
Death penalty dropped as possible penalty for soldier charged in rape and killings in Iraq
By Ryan Lenz
Dec. 14, 2006
Fort Campbell, Ky. - An Army soldier showed no signs of relief as the Army dropped the death penalty as a possible sentence if he is convicted of rape and murder in the deaths of 14-year-old girl and three others in Iraq.
Instead, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, sat rigid next to his military attorney and responded with abrupt answers when the charges he faces were read during an arraignment hearing Wednesday.
Spielman now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted in the March 12 attack, said Maj. Don Lobeda, an attorney with the 101st Airborne Division.
Investigators said the soldiers planned the attack for weeks and tried to burn the girl's body to destroy evidence of the assault. Three others in her family, including the girl's younger sister, were shot to death in the family's home in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad.
The killings were considered among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
Spielman's attorneys expressed confidence they could prove his innocence.
"We look forward to trial and proving that Jesse was not involved in rape and murder," attorney Craig Carlson, who leads Spielman's defense team, told The Associated Press by telephone.
A trial date of April 2 was set.
Nancy Hess, Spielman's grandmother, sat quietly in the courtroom during the proceedings.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hess said she remained convinced the grandson she raised had nothing to do with the attack. She said Spielman is hopeful a court-martial will show he is innocent.
"He'd love nothing more than to walk out of the courtroom innocent and remain in the military. That's his dream," Hess said. "I know he's innocent. He's not capable of acts like this."
The military is preparing to court-martial other soldiers charged in the attack.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, is the only soldier now facing possible execution if convicted. Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in a court-martial set for next year. Both Howard and Cortez deferred entering pleas during their arraignments earlier this fall.
Spc. James P. Barker, 23, pleaded guilty to rape and murder last month as part of an agreement to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison and is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
In a court hearing last month, Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and murders but said Spielman was at the house when the assault took place and had come knowing what the others intended to do.
Prosecutors allege that Howard was at a checkpoint monitoring the radio and knew what the others were planning. Another person, former Pfc. Steven Green, has pleaded not guilty in federal court to rape and murder charges.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty against Green, who was discharged from the Army for a "personality disorder."
The soldiers belonged to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which completed a yearlong deployment to Iraq in November.
MMVI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.