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Former soldier seeks leniency

PADUCAH — Defense attorney Darren Wolff pointed toward the witness and capitalized on the witness's claim of responsibility for a heinous crime.

"You could have stopped it? You could have stopped that whole thing from happening?" Wolff asked James Paul Barker.

"Yes," said Barker, a former soldier with the 101st Airborne Division.

The moment distills how the legal team for former Pfc. Steven Dale Green is defending him on more than a dozen charges over the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killing of her family in Mahmoudiya, Iraq, in March 2006.

A jury convicted Green of all the charges Thursday, including eight that carry a possible death sentence. Prosecutors say they'll ask a jury to impose that sentence on Green in the penalty phase of the trial scheduled to begin Monday.

That's where Wolff and his co-counsel, Patrick Bouldin and Scott Wendelsdorf, have focused their efforts.

"The goal has always been to save our client's life," Wolff said after the verdict. "And now we're going to go to the most important phase, which is the sentencing phase, and we're going to accomplish that goal."

Rather than swim against a tide of evidence and testimony from a group of co-conspirators, including Barker, who already have admitted their guilt, the defense team focused not on whether Green is guilty, but on spreading responsibility for the crime in an effort to avoid a death sentence.

In doing so, they're banking on the idea that the nine-woman, three-man panel will decide that Green shouldn't be put to death because so many people were to blame for the events leading up to the attack.

"There's a concept called residual doubt," said University of Kentucky law professor Roberta Harding, who is not involved in the case. "It's the idea that, while they've found someone guilty, enough doubt remains that they don't deserve to be sentenced to death."

Green's attorneys worked to raise doubts about how culpable their client is for the deaths.

To do so, the defense team had moments in which they all but admitted that the 24-year-old ex-warrior from Texas committed the crime. But while doing that, they've tried to paint the image of a military that mishandled soldiers in trouble. Their aim is to minimize how liable Green was for the slayings.

In closing arguments, Wendelsdorf told jurors there was enough evidence to convict Green of second-degree murder, which would carry a lengthy prison sentence, but not a death sentence.

"Did Steven Green uphold the honor of the Army? Hell no," Wendelsdorf said. "Did the Army do its part? I think not."

Multiple witnesses testified that, after several members of Green's unit were killed, he talked more and more about wanting to kill Iraqis. Rather than run from the remarks, defense attorneys acknowledged that Green made the comments, and made them frequently. They hope to convince jurors that the Army missed signs of a troubled soldier.

Bouldin told jurors in opening statements that Green told an Army psychologist he was deeply angry with Iraqis, but he was given medicine and sent back to his unit.

Bouldin referred to Green's situation in Iraq as "a perfect storm of craziness."

The defense repeatedly talked about Barker and another soldier who raped Abeer, as well as another pair of soldiers who took part in lesser roles in the attack.

Defense attorneys also implied that superior officers missed Green's psychological struggle while his animosity toward Iraqis intensified. Wolff, a onetime lawyer in the Marines, focused on a meeting between brigade commander Col. Todd Ebel and Green, a private who served far under him.

Wolff quizzed Ebel about how many other privates he had met with and whether what he'd heard from other officers about Green wanting to kill Iraqis was disturbing. Wolff sought to portray Ebel as having missed the signs that a soldier was in trouble and perhaps shouldn't have been in the combat zone.

Ebel told Wolff he couldn't remember a similar such meeting with another private, but that he met with numerous soldiers of various ranks while in Iraq.

To Wolff, a colonel meeting with a private should have stood out in his memory.

"You do not recall simply because it did not happen," Wolff said.

Ebel responded sharply: "I do not accept your assertion."