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The BBC's Justine Cole
"He sexually assaulted and then killed her"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK
US soldier jailed for Kosovo killing
Merita Shabiu's grandmother and brother are devastated
Merita Shabiu's grandmother and brother are devastated
An American soldier has been sentenced to life imprisonment for killing an 11-year old ethnic Albanian girl in Kosovo.

Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi admitted sexually assaulting and killing Merita Shabiu while on peacekeeping duty in the town of Vitina in Kosovo last January.

Ronghi, 36, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, having earlier made a public apology for his actions.

I know what I did was very wrong. That's why I pleaded guilty

Frank Ronghi
"I apologise from the bottom of my heart to the family...I ask them for my forgiveness," he told the court, in his first public statement since being arrested six months ago.

In a statement to the court, sitting in Wurzburg, Germany, Ronghi apologised to the army, his unit and his family "for all the hurt I have caused".

Ronghi, from Niles, Ohio did not try to excuse his actions, but told the court he had always tried to be a decent person.

"I never did anything wrong before," he said. "I know what I did was very wrong. That's why I pleaded guilty."

Guilty verdict

A six-officer panel deliberated for less than an hour before returning the verdict. Ronghi sat impassively as the decision was announced.

The court decided that Ronghi had sexually assaulted and murdered Merita after entering her family's apartment in search of a 23-year-old girl with whom he had been flirting.

She thought they had come to protect us. He massacred my daughter

Hamdi Shabiu, father
Unable to find the older woman, Ronghi encountered Merita as he was leaving and lured her into the basement where he sexually assaulted and killed her.

Ronghi was arrested after absconding from a patrol and making a crude attempt to dispose of the child's body.

Merita Shabiu's parents and two of her siblings, Kirnete and Sami, travelled from Kosovo to give evidence in the case.

Misplaced trust

During the trial, her parents told the court about how they fled from Serb persecution in Kosovo - and how relieved they later felt at being able to return home under the protection of Nato forces.

None of the family's six children felt more reassured by the international presence than 11-year-old Merita, said her father, Hamdi Shabiu.

"She was very happy because she thought they had come to protect us," he said.

Ronghi was also stripped of his pay, rank and given a dishonourable discharge from the army.

He has been taken to a US army prison at Wurzburg, 96km (60 miles) east of Frankfurt, but is expected to be transferred to a high-security prison in the United States in about a week.

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