JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales confessed in court Wednesday to killing 16 Afghan civilians, many of whom were women and children, in a plea deal that spares him the possibility of a death sentence.
With his wife sitting behind him, Bales pleaded guilty to 16 counts of murder.
The military judge accepted the plea deal, which means Bales now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, either with parole or without parole. That will be determined in the sentencing phase, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 19.
Bales requested his sentencing jury be composed of one-third enlisted individuals.
The court went into recess at 9:15 a.m. to allow Bales to inspect a document outlining what happened the night of March 11, 2012, outside Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan.
After the recess, the judge asked Bales why he wanted to kill his Afghan victims. Following a discussion with his attorney, John Henry Browne, Bales told the judge: “I’ve asked myself that question a million times since then and there is not a good reason in the world for doing the horrible thing I did.”
Some Afghan families of the victims have reportedly said that Bales should receive the death penalty and that a lesser sentence would be an unacceptable punishment for the crimes.
Prosecutors also brought forth some evidence that they said Bales may be leaving out of his statements, including a “tussle” with an elderly woman that reportedly took place prior to the killings.
In court, it was also noted that if Bales had been successful in killing all of his targets, there would have been 22 fatalities rather than 16. Bales admitted to the court that he intended to kill everyone he shot at. Prosecutors also said some of the bodies had been burned. He showed little emotion making this statement as his wife sat stoically behind him.
Bales told the court he did not recall setting any bodies on fire, but that he did remember a lantern and that he had matches in his pocket.
Browne told the court he wants to bring in experts to testify to Bales’ “diminished capacity” at his sentencing hearing. Such a strategy could potentially open the door to the possibility of parole for Bales.
One of Bales’ military lawyers, Maj. Greg Malson, said that if Bales were to be sentenced to life with parole, Bales would become eligible after serving 10 years in prison. But Malson said that would simply make him eligible, and his case would be reviewed on a yearly basis.
Another Bales’ attorney, Emma Scanlan, said the sergeant was using steroids that had been given him by U.S. Special Forces, who were in charge of the Afghan base where he was stationed, and that he had taken at least 7 ounces of alcohol the night of the massacre. She also noted he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after four tours of duty in war zones.
Bales told the court he currently takes Zoloft, an anti-depressant, but had no mental defect or issue that would keep him from understanding the court’s proceedings.