Staff Sgt. Robert Bales on Wednesday pleaded
guilty to the murders of 16 unarmed civilians -- mostly women and children -- in a
March 2012 rampage through two villages that constituted the most serious U.S.
war crimes case from Afghanistan.
If the deal is approved, the 39-year-old soldier would receive a life sentence, either with or without the possibility of parole, and avoid a possible death penalty.
Bales appeared in the courtroom in his Class A blue uniform, flanked by attorneys, and answered several questions from the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, in a clear firm voice. The pleas were entered by his attorney, Emma Scanlan, and included guilty pleas to charges that he murdered 16 Afghans, assaulted six others, burned bodies and illegally used a steroid.
Scanlan entered a plea of not guilty to the charge that Bales attempted to impede an investigation into the case by damaging a laptop computer.
At the time off the crimes, Bales was on his fourth deployment to a combat zone.
In a sentencing phase of the trial scheduled later this year, defense attorney John Henry Browne said, his client will argue that there were numerous mitigating factors and that he should be sentenced with the option of parole.
The earliest that Bales would be eligible to be considered for parole would be after serving 10 years in prison.
The prospect of Bales avoiding a death penalty angers some of the survivors in Afghanistan, who did not want him tried in the United States.
"We ask that the governments of Afghanistan and USA that the criminal be brought here for justice. We want to see him hung," said Mohammad Wazir, an Afghan who lost 11 members of his family in the rampage, in an interview last year with Lela Ahmadzai, a journalist who produced a web documentary on the massacre for the Germany-based 2470 media.
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