Zee Media Bureau
Seattle: US soldier Robert Bales, who is accused of committing a massacre of 16 innocent Afghan villagers in March 2012, on Thursday pleaded guilty to the crime saying there was "not a good reason in this world" for his actions".
By doing so, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has avoided death penalty as the military judge has accepted his guilty plea and the hearing for his sentencing has been scheduled for August 19.
The jury will then decide whether the soldier is sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole. He would serve his prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, the military prison in Kansas.
The trial took place at a military court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
When military judge Col Jeffery Nance asked the American soldier to exp-lain why he committed the murders, Bales replied, "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."
Prosecutors say Bales slipped away before dawn on March 11, 2012, from his base in Kandahar Province. Armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle equipped with a grenade launcher, 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 then left to attack a second village known as Najiban.
Wednesday`s proceedings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle marked the first time Bales provided a public account of the massacre.
Bales testified Wednesday that he made the decision to kill each victim when he raised his gun and pointed it. But in the stipulation, Bales said he struggled with a woman before killing her and "after the tussle" decided to "murder anyone that he saw."
The judge questioned Bales about it, and Bales confirmed that he decided to kill everyone after struggling with the woman.
Nance also questioned Bales about some corpses that had been set on fire. Bales said he didn`t remember burning the bodies, but he recalled a kerosene lantern being in one of the rooms and a fire and having matches in his pocket when he returned to the remote base, Camp Belambay.
Pressed by the judge on whether he set the bodies on fire with the lantern. Bales replied: "It`s the only thing that makes sense, sir."
Earlier, defense attorney Emma Scanlan entered Bales` pleas on his behalf. She entered one not guilty plea, to a charge that he impeded the investigation by breaking his laptop after he was taken into custody. That charge was later dropped, after the judge accepted the guilty plea.
Survivors who testified by video link from Afghanistan during a hearing last fall vividly recalled the carnage.
The massacre prompted such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before Army investigators could reach the crime scene.
The deaths also raised questions about the frequency of combat deployments and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bales was serving his fourth deployment. Until the attacks, he had a good, if undistinguished, military record in a decade-long career. The Ohio native suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, his lawyers say, and he had been drinking contraband alcohol and snorting Valium — both provided by other soldiers — the night of the killings.
Bales said he was also taking three doses of steroids each week to make himself "smaller, leaner, more fit for the mission," and to help him recover quickly after rigorous activity.
The drugs "definitely increased my irritability and anger," he said.
Given Bales` prior deployments and apparent PTSD, military law experts had suggested that a jury was unlikely to sentence him to death. Defense attorney John Henry Browne had sought to place blame with the military for sending Bales back to war in the first place.
Bales and his defense team wanted the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors were able to secure a premeditated murder conviction, which might have been difficult to obtain at trial.
After the judge accepted the guilty plea, Bales` lawyers and prosecutors sparred over whether the defense should have already notified the government of any intent to call expert witnesses at sentencing to testify about Bales` mental health.
The judge ordered the defense to give notice by July 1 if attorneys plan to use mental health experts and to turn over all underlying data from mental health exams by that day.
Bales` attorneys said afterward that he is remorseful and that he didn`t apologize in court because now is not the time. They also said Bales hopes villagers in Afghanistan do not take retribution against other American soldiers for his actions.
With Agency Inputs