The US Army sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan villagers in 2012 was expected to face survivors of the assault and relatives of its victims Tuesday as his sentencing hearing began.
Robert Bales, 40, pleaded guilty in June to killing the villagers, nine of them children, and to burning their bodies, in an admission brokered by his defense team in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
A military panel of three officers and three senior soldiers was assembled Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle in Washington state, to weigh Bales’s sentence, with a decision expected this week.
The judge in the case, Colonel Jeffrey Nance, previously ruled that Bales would face a maximum of life in jail without eligibility for parole. The military panel is charged with determining if the sergeant could be released early.
Some 20 prosecution and defense witnesses at the latest hearing will include nine Afghans flown by the army to the United States from the village where Bales committed the killings.
Bales’s trial heard that he had been drinking alcohol and watching a film with other US soldiers in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province when he embarked on his shooting spree on March 11, 2012.
The sergeant, a father of two, acknowledged the “horrible things” he did but did not formally apologize during his previous testimony. He may address the court once again during the sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors, however, have presented an audio recording that captures Bales and his wife laughing at the charges lodged against the soldier, which military counsel Rob Stelle contends show the accused’s “lack of remorse.”
Bales’s lawyer John Browne has said he hoped his client could be out of jail after 10 years.
During his trial, Bales initially appeared a little choked up when responding to the judge’s request for his version of events, but then outlined the full extent of the massacre.
“I formed the intent to kill and then did kill by shooting with a firearm and burning her,” he said, repeating the phrase for each of the 16 murder counts against him.
Asked why he had killed the villagers, he said: “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.”
Bales recalled he had an M4 assault rifle and a 9mm pistol and that he had used both weapons.