Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, a 24 year old U.S. soldier, pleaded guilty on February 22 to rape and murder in the death of a 14 year old girl and her family last year in Iraq.  The court will consider whether Cortez of Barstow, California, should be found guilty of premeditated murder and whether he is guilty of conspiracy to commit premeditated murdered.  In his plea agreement, Cortez said he conspired with three other soldiers from the Fort Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division to rape 14 year old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.  The girl, her parents and a younger sister were all killed.  Spc. James Barker, 24, pleaded guilty in November 2006 to rape and murder and was sentenced to 90 years in military prison.  Pfcs. Jesse Spielman, 22, was found guilty of rape and murder of the girl and her family by a military jury.  He was convicted of conspiracy to commit rape, rape, housebreaking with intent to commit rape and four counts of felony murder.  He faces a mandatory life sentence, but the jury started deliberating on August 4, 2007 whether he will ever be eligible for parole.  Bryan Howard, 20, who pleaded guilty on March 21 to being an accessory to the rape and murder, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice by lying to his superior officers about the attack.  Howard could get up to 15 years in prison at a sentencing hearing.  Cortez said this week that former private Steven D. Green raped the girl in front of him; shot her father, mother and sister; and then shot her in the head.  Green, who is accused of being the ringleader but was discharged from the military before being charged, will be prosecuted in a federal court in Kentucky.

(Fort Campbell, Kentucky)