UPDATE 5:45 p.m: During the hearing Thursday, Bales did not offer an apology to his victims.
In a meeting with reporters after the court session, defense attorneys said this hearing did not provide an opportunity for an apology, which they say would come during the sentencing phase of the courtmartial scheduled for August. “Today was his acceptance of responsibility,” said Maj. Greg Malson, a defense co-counsel.
Afghans have expressed anger at the prospect that Bales would not receive a death sentence for the murders of 16 people.
Defense attorneys said that Bales has expressed remorse for his crimes. Malson said that “what he wants more than anything” is for Afghans to understand that other soldiers now on the ground in the Afghanistan had nothing to do with what happened in those two villages.
Emma Scanlan, another defense co-counsel, indicated that events leading up the crime, including Bales’ illegal use of at least seven ounces of hard alcohol and his use of steroids provided by Special Forces soldiers, would be brought out during the sentencing phase.
“We know all these things to be true, as does the government,” Scanlan said. “You take that with somebody on his fourth deployment and the stresses of combat and you get in some parts of the situation that you are in today.“
UPDATE 3:45 p.m: In a final session of the plea hearing, the Army judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, questioned Bales’ attorneys about their preparations for the sentencing phase of the trial scheduled for August.
The defense attorneys are considering whether to call expert witnesses that can testify about Bales’ mental health. In the weeks before the sentencing, the defense attorneys will have these possible witnesses review the results of an Army sanity board review conducted earlier this year that found Bales fit to stand trial. Emma Scanlan, a defense co-counsel, says some evidence will be provided. But it is unclear whether any of the defense’s possible expert witnesses, including a neuropsychologist, will be called to testify.
John Henry Browne, another defense co-counsel, said that his client did receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder from Madigan Army Medical Center.
UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: Shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday, an Army judge accepted a plea deal that enables Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to avert the death penalty. As part of that agreement, during today’s hearing, Bales pled guilty to murdering 16 Afghans, and attempting to murder six others as well as b burning bodies, illegal use of steroids and drinking alcohol in violation of military regulations.
Under the terms of agreement, Bales will be sentenced to life imprisonment with – or without – the possibility of parole depending on the outcome of another phase of the courtmartial now scheduled to begin Aug. 19.
UPDATE 2 p.m.: The hearing resumed at 1:30 p.m. with the Army Judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, going over the agreement reached with prosecutors that calls for Bales to avert a death penalty as he pleads guilty to 16 murders and six attempted murders.
Bales affirmed that he did enter the agreement voluntarily. Nance, shortly before 2 p.m., said he would accept the agreement.
UPDATE 12:26 p.m.: Through the morning hearing, we have heard Bales, for the first time, speak the names of his 16 victims and acknowledge he killed them. There were nine female victims and seven male victims..
The nine female murder victims, as listed in an Army charging document, were Na’ikmarga, Gulalai, Shah Tarina, Zahrah, Naazyah, Masuma, Farida, Palwasha and Nabia.
The seven male murder victims were Khudai Dad, Nazir Mohammad, Mohammad Dawud, Ismattullah, Akhtar Mohammad, Faizullah and Issa Mohammad
The court is now recessed for a lunch break.
UPDATE 11:20 a.m.: Late in the morning, a prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, said he was concerned about a discrepancy between a stipulation of facts that was agreed upon prior to the hearing, and what Bales has said in court.
In court, Bales said he formed the intent to kill people in the first village of Alkozai as he raised his weapon and prepared to fire on each victim.
In the stipulation, Bales said he formed the intent after an initial struggle with a grandmother, which prompted him to try to kill everyone inside the compound
The judge asked Bales for clarification, and he confirmed the version in the stipulation.
“As I entered the compound- I had a brief struggle with a woman I know now to be Na’ikmarga,” Bales said. After completing that struggle (the woman died) Bales said he decided to try to murder anyone he encountered in the compound.
The hearing is now in a brief recess.
UPDATE 11:10 a.m.: Bales said he remembers a kerosene lantern in an Afghan compound where the remains of burned bodies were later found. But he told the judge he doesn’t remember picking up the lantern and setting the bodies on fire.
That prompted some questioning from the judge.
Bales said he is now convinced from reviewing investigative reports, and listening to witness testimony at a pretrial hearing, that he did in fact use the lantern to set the bodies on fire.
Bales affirmed that he tried to murder six people who survived in the first village he visited during the March 11 rampage.
“I did intend to kill them but they survived… Sir, I did not have any legal justification to shoot them,” he told the judge.
UPDATE 10:55 a.m.: Bales has confirmed to the Army judge that he understands all of the elements of all the crimes that he is charged with, including premeditated murder. He now is going through each murder and briefly recounting the actions of each of his crimes on the morning of March 11, 2012.
“I observed a female I now know to be Palwasha,” Bales told the judge. “I formed the intent to kill Palwasha, and then I did kill her by shooting her with a firearm and burning her. This act, again sir, was without legal justification.”
He recited similar narratives for each of the 16 victims.
The judge asked Bales why he killed them.
“As far as why, I have asked that question a million times since then, and there is not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things that I did,” Bales answered.
UPDATE 10 a.m.: Nance, the Army judge, is reviewing one by one each “specification” of crimes on the charge sheet. This exercise is intended to make sure that Bales fully understands the legal elements of these crimes. Each murder victim is named as part of this review, and Bales has so far responded that he understands the charges.
ORIGINAL POST: Joint Base Lewis-McChord Staff Sgt. Robert Bales today pleaded guilty to the murders of 16 unarmed civilians — mostly women and children — in a March 2012 rampage through two villages that constituted the most serious U.S. war crimes case from Afghanistan.
If the deal is approved, the 39-year-old soldier from this Western Washington base would receive a life sentence, either with or without the possibility of parole, and avoid a possible death penalty.
Bales appeared in the courtroom in his Class A blue uniform, flanked by attorneys, and answered several questions from the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, in a clear firm voice. The pleas were entered by his attorney, Emma Scanlan, and included guilty pleas to charges that he murdered 16 Afghans, assaulted six others, burned bodies and illegally used a steroid.
Scanlan entered a plea of not guilty to the charge that Bales attempted to impede an investigation into the case by damaging a laptop computer.
At the time off the crimes, Bales was on his fourth deployment to a combat zone.
In a sentencing phase of the trial scheduled later this year, defense attorney John Henry Browne said, his client will argue that there were numerous mitigating factors and that he should be sentenced with the option of parole.
The earliest that Bales would be eligible to be considered for parole would be after serving 10 years in prison.
The prospect of Bales avoiding a death penalty angers some of the survivors in Afghanistan, who did not want him tried in the United States.
“We ask that the governments of Afghanistan and USA that the criminal be brought here for justice. We want to see him hung,” said Mohammad Wazir, an Afghan who lost 11 members of his family to the killings, in an interview last year with Lela Ahmadzai, a journalist who produced a web documentary on the massacre for the Germany-based 2470 media.