U.S. soldier pleads guilty to
murder of Iraqi teen
Edmund Sanders; December 11,
2004; LOS ANGELES TIMES
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A U.S. Army staff sergeant who shot an unarmed,
wounded Iraqi teenager to put the youth "out of his misery" on Friday
pleaded guilty to murder in an agreement guaranteeing that he would not
serve more than 10 years in prison.
Staff Sgt. Johnny Horne Jr., 30, admitted that he killed Qassim
Hassan, 16, after his unit attacked a group of Iraqis Aug. 18 in the
Baghdad slum of Sadr City. Horne insisted that the teenager was so
badly wounded that he would have died anyway.
"I wanted to end his suffering," Horne said during a
court-martial trial in Baghdad, the capital. "With my weapon I fired a
shot to his head. His attempts to breathe ceased."
U.S. military prosecutors did not call any of Hassan's relatives
or Iraqis to testify during Friday's trial and sentencing hearing. In
interviews with the Los Angeles Times in October, family members,
including people who witnessed the shooting, insisted that Hassan's
wounds were not serious and that his life could have been saved with
Horne pleaded guilty to one count of murder and one count of
conspiracy to commit murder.
He is among five U.S. soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 41st
Infantry Regiment who are accused of killing four Iraqis over 10 days
in August. The unit is based in Fort Riley, Kan.
Two other members of the unit are accused of executing two
unarmed Iraqis inside their homes during a series of house-to-house
searches Aug. 28. The soldiers said the men threatened them with
weapons but one soldier later acknowledged that the story was
Two additional 1-41st soldiers face murder charges for killing
fellow soldiers in Kansas.
The Aug. 18 killing occurred after Horne's unit fired on a dump
truck believed to be filled with
insurgents planting roadside bombs. In fact, the truck carried young
men and teenagers who had been hired to collect trash, witnesses and
military investigators said.
At least seven Iraqis were killed and eight wounded. Military
prosecutors alleged that Horne, from Winston-Salem, N.C., conspired
with Staff Sgt. Cardenas Alban of Carson, Calif., and platoon leader
2nd Lt. Erick Anderson to kill the Iraqi. Alban and Anderson also are
charged with premeditated murder.
By pleading guilty to a lesser charge, Horne will avoid the
death penalty. He also agreed to cooperate in the murder cases pending
against his fellow soldiers.
In an unsworn statement made during his sentencing hearing
Friday, Horne said he felt terrible about the attack, particularly
after approaching the scene and seeing dead and wounded children.
Horne said he came upon the badly burned body of a male whose
internal organs had been blown away. Despite massive injuries, the
victim was struggling to breath, Horne said in his unsworn statement.
Horne said he turned for help to Alban and Anderson, his
"My god, he's just a kid," Alban replied, according to Horne's
account of the conversation.
"What do you want to do?" Anderson asked Horne.
"I don't want to leave him like that," Horne said he replied.
"Do it," Anderson said.
Horne said the three men had a "mutual understanding" that Horne
would shoot the victim.
Alban fired first, unloading a burst of bullets from his rifle.
Despite the volley of shots, Horne said Hassan was still breathing so
he fired another shot.
Soldiers on the scene argued about Horne's actions, a debate
that continues to divide the unit, soldiers said.
Some called the shooting a "mercy" killing and noted that Horne
rushed to rescue the victims in the burning truck.
Others testified they watched in horror at the shooting.
"I was in disbelief," said Spc. William Davis, a member of the
unit. "I couldn't believe it was happening."
Horne's fate rests with a seven-member military panel that will
issue the sentence. Under the plea agreement, Horne will not serve more
than 10 years.
As Horne's trial continued, another soldier from the same unit
defended himself in a separate courtroom about 100 yards away.
Staff Sgt. Michael P. Williams, 25, is charged with the
premeditated murder of three Iraqis, including one man who was seen
running from the dump truck Aug. 18. Williams opened fire on the man,
despite the fact that another soldier claimed the man was waving a
white flag and shouting, "Baby! Baby!"
"He was trying to inform us that we were shooting a truck full
of children," Pfc. Gary Romriell testified. "He was unarmed. I didn't
take him as hostile."
Other soldiers said the shooting was justified in the chaotic
minutes after the attack on the dump truck because Williams could not
be sure whether the man was a threat.