A U.S. soldier broke down in tears in court as he described his role in the gang rape and slaying of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her family last year.
Paul E. Cortez, 24, wept Wednesday as he became the second U.S. soldier to plead guilty to charges in a case considered among the worst atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
By pleading guilty to charges of rape and four counts of felony murder, Cortez was spared the possibility of a death sentence and must testify against the three other soldiers charged in the case.
Under terms of the plea agreement, Cortez will be sentenced to up to life in prison, plus reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge. A sentencing hearing was to start Thursday to determine if Cortez will be eligible for parole.
Cortez said Wednesday he raped 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya last March, and that Spc. James Barker, 24, held her down.
"I lifted up her skirt and took off her stockings while Barker held her hands with his knees," he said before admitting that he raped the teenager as she screamed. "After I was done, myself and Barker switched spots."
Cortez offered no explanation for his involvement in the rape and murders, only saying that his intent was to rape the girl. The killing of the family was originally reported to be the work of insurgents.
Another soldier, former Pfc. Steven D. Green, shot the girl's father, mother and younger sister in the bedroom, Cortez said. Green then raped the girl in front of Cortez and then shot her multiple times in the head, he said.
Cortez also testified that the soldiers attempted to burn the girl's body, burned their clothes and threw the murder weapon, an AK-47, into a canal in an attempt to get rid of evidence.
Later Wednesday, Cortez was found not guilty of more serious charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy to premeditated murder after prosecutors failed to convince a judge that Cortez knew of what they said was Green's intent to murder the whole family.
Barker, 24, pleaded guilty in November to rape and murder and was sentenced to 90 years in military prison, the AP reports.
Pfc. Jesse Spielman, 22, and Pfc. Bryan Howard, 19, await courts-martial in the case. Green is charged in federal court in Kentucky, accused of being the ringleader. He is being tried as a civilian because he was discharged from the Army before his superiors were aware of his suspected involvement.
Cortez showed very little emotion during the rest of the trial and kept his eyes down unless addressing the judge or talking with his attorneys.
He did not look up when another soldier, Spc. Christopher Till, testified that Cortez told him about the killings in June.
"He seemed very remorseful," Till said.
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