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Army plans to court-martial Pa. soldier in rape case

September 05, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - A 2002 Chambersburg (Pa.) Area Senior High School graduate is among four soldiers recommended for court-martial in the rape-slaying of an Iraqi girl earlier this year south of Baghdad.

Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and three other members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division could face the death penalty for allegedly raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, shooting her, setting her body on fire and killing her parents and sister in March.

Spielman's civilian defense team wasn't surprised about the Army's move to send the case to court-martial, his Chambersburg lawyer, Thomas Trgovac, said late Monday.

The defense lawyers learned about the court-martial recommendation through the media, Trgovac said. The recommendation came in a report issued Sunday by the investigating officer who presided over the soldiers' Article 32 hearing.

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The lawyers did not receive the report, Trgovac said.

"It's par for the course for the way this case is going," Trgovac said, expressing frustration about not being given the report and having all the soldiers being treated equally in it.

Col. Dwight Warren, the investigator in the case, said in the report obtained by The Associated Press that "reasonable grounds exist to believe that each of the accused committed the offense for which he is charged."

"It's so frustrating for me that when they speak about these events, they speak as if they acted in concert," Trgovac said. Lawyers will "keep drumming home that there is one individual who acted differently," he said.

The group is alleged to have been intoxicated while it abandoned its traffic checkpoint in Mahmoudiya as it carried out acts premeditated by former Pfc. Steven D. Green, who is being held in civilian court in the United States on rape and murder charges.

An Iraqi investigative panel is launching its own probe into the case. That move had been promised by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard also have been recommended for court-martial. Another soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is accused of failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.

The court-martial will be in Fort Campbell, Ky., where the unit is based, Trgovac said. Spielman and the others remain overseas, where the 22-year-old Chambersburg man was doing staff work recently when he spoke with Trgovac.

"We're trying to keep him centered (and) make sure he understands," Trgovac said.

David Sheldon, a lawyer for Barker, told the AP he would be filing an objection within the five days allowed after he received the investigator's recommendation.

Testimony in early August during the soldiers' Article 32 hearing - similar to a civilian grand jury hearing - painted a picture of a unit almost constantly on edge from repeated attacks and demoralized by the loss of fellow soldiers.

"Duty at a (traffic checkpoint) is unusually hostile. The (traffic checkpoints) are out on the front lines and attacked frequently," said Dan Christensen, a Texas lawyer who represented Spielman as part of his civilian defense team.

On his way back from Baghdad, Christensen wrote in an e-mail that Spielman's duties involved walking the roads every day in search of explosive devices.

"Normally, one finds them only when they go off because they are hidden so well," Christensen wrote. "The stories were amazing about the risk these soldiers face daily when they are detailed to go to the (traffic checkpoint)."

Christensen said he feared Spielman was denied a fair hearing, mentioning a refused extension, objections to videotaping and "very aggressive" interrogations without lawyers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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