PADUCAH, Ky. – A former soldier's life will be in the hands of a western Kentucky jury after the panel convicted him of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl and killing her family in Iraq.
The 12 jurors were scheduled to reconvene Monday to weigh the penalty in the case of one-time Army Pfc. Steven Dale Green, 24, of Midland, Texas. Green was convicted Thursday in federal court in Paducah in the March 12, 2006, attack on Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and her family in a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.
One of Green's defense attorneys, Darren Wolff, said the strategy all along was to focus on the penalty phase and avoid a death sentence.
"Is this verdict a surprise to us? No. The goal has always been to save our client's life," Wolff said. "And, now we're going to go to the most important phase, which is the sentencing phase and we're going to accomplish that goal."
The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford, declined comment.
Green's father, John Green, declined to comment about the verdict, but told The Associated Press that he might testify during the penalty phase of the trial.
In Youssifiyah, a town near where the incident took place, there was praise for the verdict mixed with lingering anger and skepticism.
"If American court has convicted the American soldier I will consider the U.S. government to be just and fair," said Mohammed Abbas Muhsin, 36, an employee at a municipal electricity department. "This verdict will give the rights back to the family, the relatives and the clan of the victim Abeer."
But Ahmed Fadhil al-Khafaji, a 32-year-old barber, said, "The American court and government are just trying to show the world that they are fair and just." He added, "If they are really serious about it, they should hand the soldier over to an Iraqi court to be kept in Abu Ghraib prison and tried by Iraqis."
Civil servant Qassim Abed, 45, said, "Even if this court convicts him, I don't believe he will go to prison," he said. "The court should sentence them all to death for their horrible crimes."
Charges were brought in civilian court under a 2000 law allowing the government to charge former soldiers with alleged crimes committed overseas. Green was charged in June 2006, a month after being discharged from the Army with a personality disorder before the military investigated the murders and rape.
The trial started April 27. Jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours beginning Wednesday before finding Green guilty on all 16 counts.
His defense team had asked jurors to consider the "context" of war, saying soldiers in Green's unit of the 101st Airborne Division lacked leadership. Defense attorneys also said the Army missed signs that Green was struggling after the loss of friends in combat and offered little help to him and other members of his unit.
The prosecution rested six days into the trial after presenting witnesses who said Green confessed to the crimes and who put him at the home of the teen, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, heard him shoot her family and saw him rape and shoot the girl.
During opening statements, federal prosecutor Brian Skaret said Green talked frequently of wanting to kill Iraqis, but when pressed, would tell people he wasn't serious.
Prosecutors told jurors that the plot against the family was hatched among Green and fellow soldiers who were playing cards and drinking whiskey at a checkpoint. Talk turned to having sex with Iraqi women, when one soldier mentioned the al-Janabi family, who lived nearby, Skaret said.
In closing arguments, Ford said the crime was planned and premeditated. "This was a crime that was committed in cold blood," she said.
Three other soldiers are serving time in military prison for their roles in the attack, and testified against Green at his trial.