[JURIST] Court-martial proceedings began Friday for US Army sniper Sgt. Evan Vela [JURIST news archive], charged in connection with the killings of unarmed Iraqi civilians near Iskandariyah. In opening statements, Vela's lawyer said that he was only following a superior's orders and that Vela was sleep-deprived and unable to think clearly on the morning of one of the killings. He also said that a statement Vela gave last June to military investigators, in which he admitted to killing one of the Iraqis in question, was given under duress.
Vela was charged [press release; JURIST report] last year with premeditated murder, obstruction of justice, wrongfully placing weapons with the remains of deceased Iraqis, and making a false official statement in connection with the killing of three unarmed Iraqis in three separate incidents between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Another sniper, US Army Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley, was acquitted of premeditated murder [JURIST report] last year, but convicted of other charges connected to the Iskandariyah incidents and sentenced to time served. US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval was sentenced to five months in prison [JURIST report] for his role in covering up the shootings, but was also acquitted of premeditated murder. AP has more.