Army: Soldier, Wife Laughed About Killing Charges - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Army: Soldier, Wife Laughed About Killing Charges

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) - Army prosecutors say they have a recording of a phone call in which Staff Sgt. Robert Bales and his wife laugh as they review the charges filed against him in the killing of 16 Afghan villagers.

Bales pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty for killing 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, on March 11, 2012.

His sentencing begins Tuesday, and prosecutors told the judge at a hearing Monday they hope to play the recording, among others, to show a lack of remorse on Bales' part. He faces life in prison either with or without the possibility of release.

A lawyer for Bales said the clips of the recordings were taken out of context. The judge said he will listen to the entire recordings before deciding whether they can be used at the sentencing.

Afghan villagers will have a chance to sit face-to-face with Staff Sgt. Robert Bales for the first time since he stormed their mud-walled compounds in pre-dawn darkness and slaughtered 16 people, most of them women and children.

Sentencing begins Tuesday with the selection of military jurors whose only task will be to determine whether he is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, or without it.

Army prosecutors have flown in nine Afghan villagers to testify at the hearing, which is expected to last about a week.

Several villagers testified by video link from Afghanistan during a hearing last year, including a young girl in a bright headscarf who described hiding behind her father as he was shot to death. Boys told of begging the soldier to spare them, yelling: "We are children! We are children!" A thick-bearded man told of being shot in the neck by a gunman from an arm's length away.

The villagers, some of whom have expressed outrage that Bales is going to escape the death penalty, have not encountered him in person since the attack, nor have they heard him apologize. Bales, who told a judge at his plea hearing that he couldn't explain why he committed the killings, did not say then that he was sorry, but his lawyers hinted that an apology might be forthcoming at his sentencing.

The Army has not identified the witnesses it has flown in from Afghanistan. They are expected to testify in Pashtun through an interpreter, a prosecutor said at a hearing Monday.

Bales' attorneys have indicated they plan to present evidence that could warrant leniency, including that during at least one of his prior deployments to Iraq, Bales had been prescribed the anti-malaria drug mefloquine, known by its brand name Lariam. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a new warning that the drug can cause long-term neurological damage and serious psychiatric side effects.

"Our general theme is that Sgt. Bales snapped," said John Henry Browne, one of his civilian attorneys. "That's kind of our mantra, and we say that because of all the things we know: the number of deployments, the head injuries, the PTSD, the drugs, the alcohol."

Bales, on his fourth combat deployment, had been drinking and watching a movie with other soldiers at his remote post at Camp Belambay in Kandahar Province when he slipped away before dawn on March 11, 2012. Bales said he had also been taking steroids and snorting Valium.

Armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle, he attacked a village of mud-walled compounds called Alkozai then returned and woke up a fellow soldier to tell him about it. The soldier didn't believe Bales and went back to sleep. Bales left again to attack a second village known as Najiban.

The massacre prompted such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before Army investigators could reach the crime scene.

At one point during his plea hearing, the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, asked Bales why he killed the villagers.

Bales responded: "Sir, as far as why - I've asked that question a million times since then. There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."

If he is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, Bales would be eligible in 20 years, but there's no guarantee he'd receive it.

Browne declined to say who might testify on Bales' behalf at the sentencing. At an earlier hearing, Bales' lawyers said those who might testify include an aunt, who could speak about any family history of mental health issues; an older brother; a principal and football coach from Norwood High School in Norwood, Ohio, where Bales grew up; and his high school football teammate Marc Edwards, who went on to become a running back on NFL teams, including the 2002 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

A hearing was being held Monday on motions related to the sentencing. Among the issues being sorted out was how the judge would ensure that prosecutors make no use of compelled statements Bales gave to Army doctors.

The statements are protected by Bales' Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and neither they nor any information derived from them can be used against him. Prosecutors were inadvertently sent a copy of the statements by the judge in July and read them.

Nance said the prosecutors promised not to use the statements, and he instructed Bales' lawyers to object if they believe the prosecutors are relying on them at any point in the sentencing.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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