SEATTLE (AP) — The American soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids on two slumbering villages last year is expected to recount the horrific slaughter in a military courtroom today when he pleads guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, faces premeditated murder and other charges in the March 2012 attacks near the remote base in southern Afghanistan where he was posted.
Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were burned; relatives have told The Associated Press they are irate at the notion Bales will escape execution for one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war.
Under the terms of his agreement with Army prosecutors, Bales will plead guilty at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, and a sentencing-phase trial will be held this summer to determine whether he receives life in prison with the possibility of parole, or without it.
Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, said Tuesday he expects the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, to question the soldier closely about what happened before deciding whether to accept the plea. It’s unclear whether Nance will make a decision Wednesday.
“Tomorrow is going to be about what happened, then in August is going to be a jury trial about why it happened,” Browne said. “Obviously, avoiding the death penalty is our No. 1 goal. We’ve accomplished that, assuming the judge accepts the plea, and we believe he will.”