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Army Prosecutors Outline Case In Afghan Massacre


OK. Let's go to Washington State to hear about the case being heard against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He's the American soldier charged with killing or wounding 23 civilians in a rampage in Afghanistan this past March. Sergeant Bales' pretrial hearing concluded yesterday with prosecutors asking for the death penalty. We have more from Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

AUSTIN JENKINS, BYLINE: Prosecutors say of the 16 killed, 9 were children. Five of them under age five. By video feed from Afghanistan, some of the surviving victims testified about the horrors of that early morning in March when a gunman entered their walled compound and opened fire. Prosecutors say that man was Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a married father of two on his fourth combat deployment.

Outside court, Bales' family painted a very different picture of the man they call Bob.

STEPHANIE TANDBERG: We know Bob as a bright, courageous and honorable soldier, son, husband.

JENKINS: Stephanie Tandberg is Bale's sister-in-law. As she spoke in the drizzle at Washington's Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Bales' wife Kari stood silently at her side. Tandberg told reporters the family shares the nation's despair over the massacre, but questioned the evidence against Bales.

TANDBERG: Much of the testimony was painful, even heartbreaking, but we are not convinced the government has shown us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happened that night.

JENKINS: Bales was assigned to a Special Forces outpost in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. On the night of the killings, prosecutors say he drank whiskey and soda with some fellow soldiers and watched a Denzel Washington movie about a man who goes on a killing spree to seek revenge. After everyone had gone to bed, prosecutors say Bales left on foot to commit his quote heinous crimes in two nearby villages.

His defense team is raising a number of issues, including whether Bales acted alone. But at the heart of the defense is a single question: What was Bales' state of mind? His attorneys have suggested Bales suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. It emerged in court that Bales was also taking steroids. His attorney, Emma Scanlan.

EMMA SCANLAN: We need to know what it means when somebody is on steroids, alcohol and sleeping aids. What does that mean about his state of mind?

JENKINS: Scanlan says the defense team has just now received toxicology results that still need to be analyzed. Eugene Fidell teaches military justice at Yale Law School. Speaking via Skype, he says that avenue of defense could be risky.

EUGENE FIDELL: Perhaps there's a basis for some kind of extenuating or mitigating evidence that would be an effort to negate premeditation, for example, intention. But voluntary intoxication? Military law is not friendly to that kind of defense.

JENKINS: In court, prosecutors used Bales' own words to try to demonstrate he was aware of his actions and able to express guilt shortly after the killings. Quote: "I thought I was doing the right thing." Bales also reportedly said, It's bad, really bad. But defense lawyer Scanlan notes Bales has yet to go through the Army's sanity board process.

SCANLAN: We don't know so many things about this case that we ask that everybody keep an open mind as we go forward, as we investigate what is actually going on here.

JENKINS: In closing arguments, Scanlan tried to convince the investigating officer to take the death penalty off the table. On that point the prosecution said the sheer brutality of the crimes justifies that if Bales is ultimately convicted of premeditated murder, he should face the possibility of execution.

For NPR News, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."