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December 20, 2012

Army seeks death penalty in 16 killings

SEATTLE — The U.S. Army said Wednesday it will seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage in March, a decision his lawyer called “totally irresponsible.”

The announcement followed a pretrial hearing last month for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.

The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

Prosecutors said Bales left his remote southern Afghanistan base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base, then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.

His civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, said he met with Army officials last week to argue his client shouldn’t face the possibility of the death penalty, given that Bales was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone when the killings occurred.

Bales’ wife, Kari Bales, said in a statement Wednesday that she and their children have been enjoying their weekend visits with Bales at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and she hopes he receives an impartial trial.

Bales’ defense team has said the government’s case is incomplete, and outside experts have said a key issue going forward will be to determine if Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

During last month’s preliminary hearing, prosecutors built a strong eyewitness case against the veteran soldier, with troops recounting how they saw Bales return to the base alone, covered in blood. One soldier testified that Bales woke him up in the middle of the night, saying he had just shot people at one village and that he was heading out again to attack another. The soldier said he didn’t believe Bales and went back to sleep.

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