A u. S. soldier was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to killing a severely wounded Iraqi teenager, the military said today. Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., 30...

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — A U.S. soldier was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to killing a severely wounded Iraqi teenager, the military said today.

Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., 30, of Winston-Salem, N.C., also received a reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of wages and a dishonorable discharge.

Horne, attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, based in Fort Riley, Kansas, pleaded guilty to one count of unpremeditated murder and one count of soliciting another soldier to commit unpremeditated murder.

The charges relate to the Aug. 18 killing of

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Qassim Hassan, 16, found in a burning truck with severe abdominal wounds sustained during clashes in Baghdad’s Sadr City, an impoverished neighborhood that was the scene of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and Shiite rebels loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“I wanted to end his suffering,” Horne said during a court-martial trial in Baghdad. “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 yesterday’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 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 avoided the death penalty. He also agreed to cooperate in the murder cases pending against his fellow soldiers.

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.

As Horne’s trial continued, a soldier from the same unit defended himself in a 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. Williams opened fire on the man, despite the fact that another soldier claimed the man was waving a white flag and shouting, “Baby! Baby!”

The Associated Press reported today’s sentence.