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US soldier pleads not guilty to Iraqi civilian pre-meditated murder

[JURIST] US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval pleaded not guilty at his court-martial in Iraq Wednesday to charges that he and two other soldiers killed three unarmed Iraqis and then placed weapons next to the bodies. Sandoval, along with Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley and Sgt. Evan Vela, was charged [press release; JURIST report] with premeditated murder and wrongfully placing a weapon with the remains of a deceased Iraqi for his role in the incident, which took place between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah, Iraq [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. If convicted, Sandoval could receive a life sentence.

Earlier this week, Vela's lawyer argued that Vela was simply following orders to "bait" suspected Iraqi insurgents with materials that could be used to aid the insurgency and then kill them. In August, Hensley refused to accept a plea agreement [JURIST report], saying he was innocent of the charges against him. AP has more.

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