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 medical attention.
  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 fabricated.
  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 superior officer.
  "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.