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US soldier pleads guilty in rape, murder of Iraqi girl
Yahoo News/AFP
February 20, 2007

FORT CAMPBELL, United States (AFP) - A US soldier pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her family.

Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, was the second soldier to plead guilty in a deal that is expected to allow him to avoid the death penalty. He was expected to be sentenced late Tuesday or Wednesday.

Cortez was among five soldiers accused of plotting the March 2006 rape and murder of Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi, as well as the murder of her parents and younger sister.

The killings, one of the most high-profile of several alleged atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq, took place in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.

Prosecutors said the five soldiers spotted al-Janabi on the street and plotted to break into her home to rape her while playing cards and drinking alcohol.

Once there, they killed her parents, Kassem Hamza Rachid al-Janabi and Fakhriya Taha Mohsine al-Janabi and six-year-old sister, Hadeel Kassem Hamza al-Janabi.

Then they raped the girl, shot her and set fire to her body in an attempt to cover up their crimes, prosecutors said.

The alleged ringleader of the group, former army private Steven Green, pleaded not guilty in civilian court in November. A trial date has not yet been set.

He cannot be tried by the military because he was discharged for having a "personality disorder" before the incident came to light.

Specialist James Barker avoided the death penalty as part of a plea deal last November in which he was sentenced to 90 years in prison and agreed to cooperate with prosecutions of the other soldiers.

Two other soldiers, Private First Class Jesse Spielman and Private First Class Bryan Howard are awaiting courts-martial.

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