Skip to main content

U.S. soldier to be court-martialed, could face death penalty

By Mark Morgenstein
updated 3:10 PM EST, Thu December 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' attorney calls Army, government prosecutors "irresponsible"
  • Bales' wife, Karilyn, says she's unsure if he can get a fair trial
  • Bales is accused of killing 16 and wounding six Afghans in March shooting spree

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- A U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting rampage could face the death penalty if he is found guilty in a court-martial.

The military has referred the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to a court-martial authorized to consider capital punishment, according to a military statement released Wednesday.

Another six Afghans were wounded in the spree near a small U.S. base in Afghanistan's Kandahar province last March, the military said.

"The charges are merely accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty," the military emphasized in its statement.

Sgt. Bales wife: "We are truly blessed"
Charges added to Afghan shooting suspect
Bales' attorney: Military broke promise

Bales' defense attorney John Henry Browne said Wednesday he didn't receive any notice from the Army or the prosecutors about the decision to pursue the death penalty; he said he found out about it through the media.

"That's how much we seem to matter to the prosecutors and the general," quipped Browne.

"I am concerned this is a death penalty case, but I am not surprised. We've prepared him for this. He knows he's being singled out," Browne said.

"We understand that decision, but we think it's totally irresponsible of the government and the Army," Bales' lawyer said.

"We think the Army is attempting to escape responsibility for the decision to send Sgt. Bales to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment, knowing that he had (post-traumatic stress disorder) and a concussive head injury," Browne said. "I think that the person who made the decision to send Sgt. Bales to the most dangerous area in Afghanistan in a small outpost is responsible for Sgt. Bales being in Afghanistan, and he should have never been there."

Bales' wife, Karilyn, has called the accusations "completely out of character of the man I know and admire."

In a statement released Wednesday, she wrote, "I no longer know if a fair trial for Bob is possible, but it very much is my hope and I will have faith."

She and their children visit Bales every weekend, and "for a few hours I can see and feel the love that flows" between them, she added.

Afghan authorities have pushed for swift action.

"He committed a mass killing crime, and we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime," Ahmad Zia Syamak, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told CNN last month.

But Browne said prosecutors may regret hastily moving the case forward.

"The reality is almost every death case in the Army -- almost every -- has been overturned on appeal, and there hasn't been an execution in the Army since the early '60s," Browne said, referencing the 1961 hanging of Pvt. John Bennett.

Read more: Afghan survivor: 'He just started shooting'

CNN's Josh Levs and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT