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Airborne soldiers to face military trial
McClatchy Newspapers


July 20, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Four soldiers from the Army's elite 101st Airborne Division, charged with raping a 14-year-old girl and murdering her parents and 6-year-old sister, are going to face justice, military-style.

That means they'll be judged by fellow soldiers who know the stresses of combat. It means they'll have certain legal protections that civilian defendants don't. And it means, if history is a judge, that they're likely to be convicted.

The four are Spc. James Paul Barker of Fresno, Calif.; Sgt. Paul E. Cortez of Barstow, Calif.; Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, whose mother lives in Chambersburg, Pa.; and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, who's from a small town northeast of Houston. A fifth soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, from a small town south of Ketchum, Idaho, has been charged with dereliction of duty but not with the rape and killings.

A former soldier, Steven D. Green, the alleged ringleader in the incident, has been arrested in North Carolina and charged in federal court.

The courts martial of the five active-duty soldiers will differ from Green's civilian trial because the Uniform Code of Military Justice has different rules and procedures from those used in civilian courts.

It ensures that the five will be tried and judged by fellow soldiers, and the four accused of capital crimes can choose between panels composed of officers or of a combination of officers and enlisted personnel.

The military panels, legal experts say, tend to eliminate the theatrics and emotion that civilian lawyers sometimes use in high-profile cases such as this one.

"The 'jury' pool is far superior to the average jury in a federal district-court trial," said Robert Turner, a former Army officer who's the associate director of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law. "Not only are officers virtually all college graduates, but people who are willing to put their lives on the line for their country tend to have strong commitments to concepts like truth, honor and justice."


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