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May 23, 2009

"Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence for Iraq Murders"

The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times article reporting the outcome of a high-profile capital prosecution with lots of international and domestic policy components.  Here are the basics:

A jury in Kentucky sentenced a 24-year-old former soldier to life in prison without parole on Thursday for raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her, her parents and a younger sister in Iraq.

The verdict spared the defendant, Steven D. Green, death for a crime that prompted Iraqi demands for retribution and raised questions about Army oversight of its combat-stressed forces.  After deliberating for just one day, the 12-member jury, sitting in Paducah, Ky., declared itself hung late Thursday afternoon, resulting in the lesser sentence, said Dawn Masden, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, based in Louisville.

The verdict seemed likely to anger Iraqis who had argued that Mr. Green and the other soldiers involved in the murders should have been tried by an Iraqi court and who had asserted that only a death penalty could satisfy the family and fellow villagers.

At least four other soldiers have pleaded guilty or were convicted in military courts for their roles in the rape and murders. While most received long prison terms, none are facing the death penalty, and all will be eligible for parole in 10 years or less.

Mr. Green’s trial was the first capital punishment case tried under a 2000 law allowing federal criminal courts to try crimes committed overseas by former members of the military, military dependents, contractors and other civilians, legal experts said. Mr. Green left the Army, with an honorable discharge on a diagnosis for a personality disorder, just weeks before he was arrested in 2006.

The March 2006 murders in Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, were so bloody that American and Iraqi authorities first thought they were the work of insurgents. The American soldiers were implicated after at least one acknowledged to fellow soldiers a role in the crimes....

On March 11, 2006, after drinking Iraqi whiskey, Private Green and other soldiers manning a checkpoint decided to rape an Iraqi girl who lived nearby, according to testimony. Wearing civilian clothing, the soldiers broke into a house and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Soldiers in the group testified that Private Green killed the girl’s parents and a younger sister before raping and then shooting the girl in the head with the family’s own AK-47, which it had kept for self defense.

At his trial, Mr. Green’s lawyers built a case intended less to deny his role in the crime than to plant questions about whether he deserved the death penalty....  After the sentencing, Doug Green, 28, Mr. Green’s brother, told The Associated Press: “I do think it gives him a chance to have some semblance of a life. We’re grateful for that.” The team of defense lawyers, Scott Wendelsdorf, Darren Wolff and Patrick Bouldin, said in a statement: “The defense thanks the jury for their careful consideration and ultimate decision. There are no winners in a case like this that is tragic on so many levels.”

May 23, 2009 at 03:12 PM | Permalink

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"After deliberating for just one day, the 12-member jury, sitting in Paducah, Ky., declared itself hung late Thursday afternoon, resulting in the lesser sentence, said Dawn Masden"

Oh to be a fly on the wall during those deliberations.

Posted by: . | May 23, 2009 5:06:16 PM

I'm still unclear on why civial trials are considered preferable (from the government point of view) to a general court martial in these situations. I understand that the defendant was out at the time charges were brough, but I've seen numerous cases where provisions allowing forced re-induction were used in order to bring people back under the jurisdiction of military courts.

Maybe the prosecution gambled on civilians being less sympathetic to the toil of war, I have seen the results of some courts martial that seemed to result in relatively light sentences.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 23, 2009 5:22:28 PM

Victims had dark skins. So, no death penalty for poster boy of death penalty. Had the defendant been put to death at the proper time, we would be one innocent Iraqi family ahead. I would like Prof. Berman to begin a list of people who should have been executed for multiple crimes before losing an innocent victim. Because the Iraqi very properly believe in eternal vendetta (it deters), now other Americans will be attacked for the crimes of the criminal lover lawyers safely at home.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 23, 2009 8:30:20 PM

Soronel: Under American law, once a member of the military has been discharged, as occurred in this case before the authorities had collected the evidence to prosecute, the military court system no longer has jurisdiction over him or her. This trial therefore had to be held in a civilian court. Green's co-defendants, who were charged while they were still in the military, were prosecuted by courts martial.

Posted by: Peter G | May 24, 2009 3:43:58 PM

Peter G,

As I said, I've seen cases where a soldier who was nominally out of the service had a forced re-induction clause of their contract invoked in order to bring them back under military jurisdiction. The cases I've seen though were fairly old (some dating back to WW2), so perhaps the clause used has been removed in the intervening years.

If that is the case I am somewhat surprised.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 24, 2009 7:17:51 PM

The real story is once again frontloading mitigation is a winning strategy in death penalty defense.

Posted by: Tim Capps | May 26, 2009 12:37:55 PM

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