The lawyer for an Army sniper charged with killing an Iraqi civilian and planting an AK-47 on his body said Friday that his client was too sleep deprived to know what he was doing. Sgt. Evan Vela of St. Anthony, Idaho, is charged with one count of premeditated murder, making a false official statement and of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. His court-martial began Friday in Baghdad. In opening statements, defense attorney James Culp called Vela "a victim of circumstance." "He was suffering from sleep deprivation and had no ability to think that morning," Culp told the court. Two other soldiers have faced similar charges in the same killing and two others. Those men were acquitted of the murder charges but were convicted of planting evidence on the bodies of the dead Iraqis. Military prosecutors say the killings occurred on April 14, April 27 and May 11 near Iskandariyah, a mostly Sunni Arab city 30 miles south of Baghdad. Another defense lawyer, Daniel Conway, told reporters during a lunch break from court that in a 74-hour period last spring, Vela slept just 2.5 hours. "The Army took the best and brightest and pushed them beyond their breaking point," Conway said. Vela, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, of Candler, N.C., and Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, Jr., of Laredo, Texas, were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Hensley and Sandoval have since had their ranks reduced as part of their sentences. Vela gave a statement to military investigators in June saying he killed one of the Iraqis. But Culp said Friday that the statement was given under duress. Vela was not permitted to use the latrine or to eat during the seven-hour interrogation, Culp said. Vela testified at Hensley's court-martial in late September under a deal that bars his account of events from being used against him when he goes to trial. Vela said Hensley, his staff sergeant, told him to shoot a man who stumbled upon their snipers' hide-out, although he was not armed and had his hands in the air as he approached the soldiers. I want to know peoples view on this. I am a civilian but I think its a load of crap. Its called war. some seals made the mistake of letting someone go in 2005 and got 16 soldiers killed includeing one who was a friend. I don't believe we can just kill everyone but someone endangers your life and your mission. take em out. Wanna kill these ads? We can help!