Baghdad, Iraq A U.S. soldier pleaded guilty at his court-martial Friday to killing a severely wounded 16-year-old Iraqi male during fierce fighting in Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City neighborhood, the military said.
Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., 30, of Winston-Salem, N.C., was among several soldiers who had found the wounded teenager on Aug. 18 in a burning truck with severe abdominal wounds sustained during the clashes. A criminal investigator had said during an earlier hearing that the soldiers decided to kill him to "put him out of his misery."
Sadr City was the scene of wild clashes earlier this year between coalition forces and Shiite rebels allied to firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a loud opponent of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
In a plea bargain, Horne, a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, from Fort Riley, Kan., pleaded guilty to one count of unpremeditated murder and one count of soliciting another soldier to commit unpremeditated murder. The charges are under Articles 118 and 81 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"The convictions stemmed from Staff Sgt. Horne's murder of a severely wounded Iraqi civilian in Baghdad's Sadr City district," a military statement said.
Lt. Col. James Hutton, a military spokesman, said Horne had originally been charged with the more serious offenses of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and solicitation of another soldier to commit premeditated murder.
"He decided to plead guilty to the lesser charges presented to him," Hutton said.
Hutton said Horne was expected to be sentenced later Friday.
Horne is one of six Fort Riley soldiers charged with killings in recent months: two for slayings in Kansas and four for deaths in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Cardenas J. Alban, 29, of Inglewood, Calif., was charged along with Horne in the teenager's killing and is awaiting a court-martial hearing.
Previous military court hearings have heard that several troops had fired on a group of Iraqi men placing homemade bombs along a road in Sadr City. Soldiers from the same battalion arrived on the scene to find a burning truck and casualties around it.
According to accounts given by witnesses at previous hearings, the soldiers, including Horne, tried to rescue an Iraqi casualty from inside the vehicle. The victim had severe abdominal wounds and burns and was thought by several of the witnesses to be beyond medical help.
The criminal investigator had said that the U.S. soldiers had decided that "the best course of action was to put (the victim) out of his misery."
Another military hearing into a soldier charged with killing another Iraqi in a separate August incident in Sadr City is expected to continue Friday.
Sgt. Michael P. Williams, 25, of Memphis, Tenn., faced the opening day of an Article 32 hearing Thursday charged with premeditated murder, obstruction of justice and making a false official statement.
Two witnesses gave evidence during the Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing.
Williams is charged in the same case along with Spc. Brent May, 22, of Salem, Ohio, who faced a two-day hearing this week and is awaiting a ruling on whether he will be court-martialed, receive a lesser penalty or be acquitted.
Six members of his unit, Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, from Fort Riley, testified in his case.
Earlier this week in Germany, a U.S. tank company commander accused of killing a critically injured Iraqi driver for al-Sadr was ordered court-martialed.
Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 29, of Chicago, will be tried on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and dereliction of duty, which carry a maximum combined sentence of 20 1/2 years, said military spokesman Maj. Michael Indovina.
During Maynulet's Article 32 hearing, witnesses testified that the driver had been shot in the head when Maynulet saw him. A fellow officer said Maynulet told him he then shot the man out of compassion.