100-Year Sentence for Second Soldier Convicted of Rape and Murder


Sgt. Paul Cortez, the second soldier to plead guilty to the rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, as well as the murder of her parents and sister, was sentenced on Thursday, February 22, to 100 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. Under the terms of a plea agreement made before the court martial took place, Cortez avoided life imprisonment without possibility of parole in sentencing handed down by the judge, Colonel Stephen Henley.

Instead, confirmed defense attorney William Cassara after the court martial, Cortez, like Spc. James Barker before him, will be eligible for parole in 10 years, in accordance with military regulations that stipulate parole eligibility after 10 years in all sentences of more than 30 years. This contradicts earlier reports that Barker would be eligible for parole in 20 years -- a time limit that applies only to sentences of life imprisonment.

Until all trials in the case are complete, Cortez will likely serve his sentence at either Christian County Jail, the civilian jail where he has been confined since September 2006, or at Fort Knox. After that, said Cassara, he will probably transfer to military prison at Fort Leavenworth and ultimately to a federal prison.

Details of the gang rape and murders continued to emerge during the sentencing hearing. Sgt. Anthony Yribe, against whom charges of dereliction of duty in this case were earlier dropped in return for an other than honorable discharge, told the court how Cortez returned with him to the scene of the crimes an hour or two after the atrocity took place, once local Iraq soldiers reported the deaths to U.S. soldiers at a nearby checkpoint.

Yribe said Cortez reacted strongly to the scene, dry heaving and coughing as he repeatedly had to leave the Al-Janabi house. "I'd never seen him like that before," said Yribe, who at that point was unaware of Cortez's involvement.

In the bedroom, where the bodies of Abeer's parents and sister Hadeel lay, Yribe found a green expended "Baghdad" shotgun round -- a distinctive sign that U.S. soldiers had been present. U.S. investigators were not told of the shell. Cortez said he got rid of it, Yribe reported in testimony later excluded from the legal record for technical reasons.

Several soldiers testified about the harsh conditions under which Cortez and his colleagues served in Iraq. According to an expert witness, Dr. Charles Figley, Cortez may have been suffering from combat stress injuries in the period preceding the crimes, which occurred on March 12, 2006. Cortez, the court heard, had been particularly distraught following the combat deaths of five close colleagues within a few weeks time in December 2005. According to a "Sanity Board" report cited by the prosecution, the experience ultimately resulted in a misguided desire for revenge on the innocent family. In the report, Cortez describes what was going through his mind while he raped Abeer: "(I thought) 'what the f--- am I doing'. At the same time I didn't care either. I wanted her to feel the pain of the dead soldiers."

According to other testimony, Steven Green, an ex-soldier currently being tried in federal court for the rape and murders, was like a "virus" in the unit who frequently expressed a desire to kill Iraqis. "Green should not have been with the soldiers, from day one," said SFC Robert Gallagher, describing him as unprofessional, wearing torn pants that exposed his genitals and having a "thuggish mentality." Gallagher went so far as to kick Green out of his platoon.

"This is the army, and in the army someone always needs to be in charge," lead prosecutor Captain William Fischbach told the court. He pointed out that, despite any mitigating circumstances and influences, Cortez was the senior soldier at Traffic Control Point 2 on March 12, 2006. Without Cortez's active complicity -- to the point of pulling rank to "go first" in raping Abeer -- it is unlikely, argued Fischbach, that events would have unfolded in the fatal manner they did for the al-Janabi family.

Cortez and his attorney have talked about the possibility of his contacting Abeer's family, particularly her surviving brothers, said Cassara, to express his "regrets and horrendous sorrow" at what took place last year. Military sources confirmed that the al-Janabi family has received some monetary compensation, as victims of crimes committed by U.S. service members. Abeer's two brothers, now with their uncle, will continue to live with the loss of their mother, father and two sisters.

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