Citizen soldier - A Kentucky judge weighs whether to try a former soldier accused of rape and murder in Iraq

Aug 6, 2008 at 11:54 am

A former soldier faces execution in a civilian court in Kentucky for allegedly raping and killing an Iraqi teenager and slaying the girl’s family in a village outside Baghdad. But lawyers representing the onetime Army private are urging a judge to dismiss the case, calling the prosecution unprecedented and unconstitutional.

A federal judge is expected to rule this week on a motion to dismiss charges against Steven D. Green, whom the defense argues was never properly discharged from the Army, meaning a military court is the proper venue to consider the alleged crimes.

“As we outlined in the motion, we think there are jurisdictional problems with this prosecution,” says Patrick Bouldin, one of the Louisville federal public defenders representing Green. “It really is a military case and should be treated as such.” When asked to elaborate, Bouldin referred LEO Weekly to recent court filings.

The defense argues in its latest motion that Green, 23, is “one of the first, if not the first, person to be prosecuted in a U.S. civilian court for charges stemming from active military services overseas.” Yet the U.S. Justice Department is forging ahead with the rare prosecution, saying that because the Army discharged Green six weeks before he was arrested, he was not subject to military courts-martial. 

Because Green was a member of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., the Texas native was indicted in Louisville, where the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky is based.

Three other soldiers accused of participating in the 2006 rape and murders still were on active duty at the time of their arrests, and have since been convicted and sentenced in a military court. Although they received lengthy prison terms ranging from 90 to 110 years, each will be eligible for parole in a decade.

“Green, the only soldier the government alleges immediately admitted his involvement … now faces prosecution in the civilian justice system while his equally culpable co-accused, who covered up their involvement for months, have all been prosecuted in the military system,” the defense argues in court papers, adding that the result is “grossly disparate treatment.”

If Green’s trial goes forward in April as scheduled, his lawyers have announced plans to rely on an insanity defense. In court papers, they claim Green was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after several members of his unit were brutally killed by insurgents.

The defense further claims that Green’s superiors made sure he was discharged — citing a bogus antisocial personality disorder and poor performance — because he allegedly confessed to the crime, and was therefore a “weak link” in a conspiracy to cover up the slayings: “It was important that PFC Green be removed from the Army and Iraq where his loose talk could condemn them all.”

On March 12, 2006, the government claims Green and three fellow soldiers were playing cards and drinking whiskey when they began disparaging a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who lived near a traffic checkpoint they had been guarding. The discussion escalated, and the group reportedly concocted a plan to rape the girl.

The highest-ranking officer among them — Sgt. Paul Cortez — allegedly agreed to the plan, but only if he got to rape the young woman first, saying, “Let’s go, before I change my mind.” After changing into dark clothes, arming themselves with rifles and breaking into the girl’s home, the four men took turns raping the girl, according to investigators. Meanwhile, Green allegedly shot and killed the girl’s mother, father and 5-year-old sister in another room.

“Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, ‘I just killed them, all are dead,’” FBI Special Agent Gregor Ahlers, of Louisville, reported in an affidavit after investigating the murders. After murdering the teenager’s family, Green reportedly raped the girl, then shot her three times with an AK-47.

Before fleeing the scene, the soldiers torched the house in an effort to destroy evidence linking them to the crime.

The Iraqi Army discovered the bodies later that day and reported the incident to the U.S. Army, which launched an investigation led by Sgt. Cortez, who eventually was arrested and convicted for participating in the atrocity. Cortez, along with two of his accomplices tried in a military court, were offered leniency in exchange for cooperating against Green. 

Although this unusual case has garnered criticism from some legal experts who say civilian courts aren’t equipped to handle military matters, University of Louisville law professor Luke Milligan is skeptical the indictment will be dismissed, given Green was discharged before he was arrested. “It seems that Green’s case will remain, and indeed belongs, in civilian court,” he says.