Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has agreed to plead guilty to the 2012 slaying of 16 Afghanistan civilians in a deal to avoid the death penalty, his lawyers said Wednesday.
Attorney Emma Scanlan told USA TODAY in an e-mail that Bales “will be entering a plea of guilty to the charges” at a hearing June 5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
“He is ready to accept responsibility for what he has done,” she said. “The plea has been accepted by the commanding general.”
Scanlan is an associate of criminal defense lawyer John Henry Browne, who began representing Bales shortly after the killings in Afghanistan on March 11, 2012.
Army spokesman George Wright at the Pentagon confirmed via e-mail that Bales is scheduled to enter a plea at a hearing June 5 but did not comment on Bales’ intention to plead guilty.
Bales, 39, is with the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
He is charged with 16 counts of premeditated murder from the alleged shooting of Afghan citizens.
A sentencing-phase trial will be held in September to determine whether Bales is sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, Browne told the Associated Press. The agreement is subject to approval by the judge and the commanding general at the base.
“The judge will be asking questions of Sgt. Bales about what he did, what he remembers and his state of mind,” Browne said. “The deal that has been worked out … is they take the death penalty off the table, and he pleads as charged, pretty much.”
Browne has said that Bales does not remember much about the night of the killings, but the lawyer said he has begun to remember some events and will admit to “very specific facts” about the shooting deaths.
He said Bales is contrite about the killings and described Bales as “crazed” and “broken” the night of the attack. He said that after a psychiatric examination, defense attorneys would not claim insanity.
“His mental state does not rise to the level of a legal insanity defense,” Browne said. “But his state of mind will be very important at the trial in September. We’ll talk about his mental capacities or lack thereof, and other factors that were important to his state of mind.”
Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., slipped away from his remote southern Afghanistan outpost at Camp Belambay early on March 11, 2012, and attacked mud-walled compounds in two slumbering villages nearby. He had been drinking contraband alcohol and snorting Valium, and he had been taking steroids before the attack.
Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were piled and burned. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan.
Bales was serving his fourth tour in a combat zone, and the allegations against him raised questions about the toll multiple deployments were taking on U.S. troops. For that reason, many legal experts believed that it was unlikely that he would receive the death penalty, as Army prosecutors were seeking. The military justice system hasn’t executed anyone since 1961.
Nevertheless, the plea deal could inflame tensions in Afghanistan. In interviews with the AP in Kandahar in April, relatives of the victims became outraged at the idea that Bales might escape the death penalty and vowed revenge.
“For this one thing, we would kill 100 American soldiers,” said Mohammed Wazir, who had 11 family members killed that night, including his mother and 2-year-old daughter.
“A prison sentence doesn’t mean anything,” said Said Jan, whose wife and three other relatives were killed. “I know we have no power now. But I will become stronger, and if he does not hang, I will have my revenge.”
Three of Jan’s other family members were wounded, including his 7-year-old granddaughter, who was shot in the head.
Source: US Today