An ex-soldier convicted of raping and killing an Iraqi teen and murdering her family was spared the death penalty Thursday after jurors couldn't agree on a punishment for the brutal crime.
Steven Dale Green, 24, will instead serve a life sentence in a case that has drawn attention to the emotional and psychological strains on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In March 2006, after an afternoon of card playing, sex talk and drinking Iraqi whiskey, Pfc. Green and three other soldiers went to the home of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Green shot and killed the teen's mother, father and sister, then became the third soldier to rape the girl before shooting her in the face.
Federal jurors who convicted Green of rape and murder on May 7 told the judge they couldn't agree on the appropriate sentence after deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days. Their choices were a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Since they could not unanimously agree on either sentence, life in prison had to be the verdict.
"It's the better of two bad choices," said his father, John Green, who sighed as the verdict was read.
His son will be sentenced Sept. 4 by US District Judge Thomas B. Russell.
Green's attorneys never denied his involvement in the attack, instead focusing on building a case that he didn't deserve the death penalty. Former Marines and other soldiers with whom Green served testified that he faced an unusually stressful combat tour in Iraq in a unit that suffered heavy casualties and didn't receive sufficient Army leadership while serving in Iraq's "Triangle of Death."
Jurors declined to comment as they were escorted out of the courthouse.
According to the jury verdict forms they filled out, several said the stress Green was under from combat and other factors in his life was a mitigating factor toward him not being sentenced to death. Just as many said that the Army knowing he was having homicidal thoughts yet still returning him to the field also was a mitigator.
Some mitigators for several jurors also included his bad home life, not being tried in a military court like the rest of the defendants and that he was under the influence of superiors during the attack.
The issue of combat stress resulting from long and traumatic deployments came to the forefront again just as Green's trial was entering the sentencing phase in Kentucky. Thousands of miles away in Iraq, an Army sergeant on his third tour of duty allegedly entered a military mental health clinic on May 11 and opened fire on his comrades, killing five of them, including a doctor who helped soldiers deal with stress.
Green had been deployed for about six months when he attacked the family. During that time, however, enemy attacks killed two command sergeants, a lieutenant and a specialist in Green's unit over 12 days in December 2005. Jurors also were told that Green's unit was left alone to run a traffic checkpoint for several weeks without a break.
However, the defense also argued there was a lack of military leadership in the unit.
And the defense said Green was seen by Army mental health professionals who listened to him about his desire to kill Iraqi civilians after several fellow soldiers were killed. A nurse practitioner sent him back to his unit with a sleep aide after he showed no signs of planning to act on his thoughts, she testified.
The trial was held in western Kentucky because Green was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Assistant US Attorney Marisa Ford said in a statement that prosecutors have "the utmost respect" for the jury's decision.
"This trial represents some of the most important principles of our Constitution and our democracy in action," Ford said. "The decision of how justice would be best served was left to the people."
One of Green's attorneys, Darren Wolff of Louisville, said his client twice offered to plead guilty, but the US Justice Department refused amid international pressure for a conviction.
"Mr. Green will spend the rest of his life in jail and the events of March 12, 2006, have forever changed the lives of many," Wolff said. "It is a tragic case on so many levels."
His brother, Doug Green, 26, said the jury reached the appropriate decision.
"I do think it gives him a chance to have some semblance of a life," he said. "We're grateful for that."