Staff Sergeant Robert Bales pleaded guilty Wednesday to 16 counts of premeditated murder for a deadly attack on Afghan civilians in the early morning hours of March 11, 2012, in two separate compounds outside Village Stability Platform Belambay, his combat outpost in Afghanistan.
Under the terms of his plea bargain, Bales admission of guilt to premeditated murder means he will no longer face the death penalty.
Acting alone, Bales, a 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldier, said he murdered nine children, four men and three women. He also admitted to attempted murder charges for shooting and wounding six others.
As all charges were read during the military court proceeding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, military judge Col. Jeffery Nance identified each victim by name and questioned Bales about the killings.
Bales voice quavered as he described how he carried out one of the executions.
I left the VSP and went to the nearby village of Najabyan. While inside a compound in Najabyan, I observed a female I now know to be Nazuya. I formed the intent to kill her and then I did kill her by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, Bales said.
He claimed to not remember details beyond seeing a kerosene lantern in a room. He had a vague memory of a fire that caused outrage among family members of the victims; burning bodies is forbidden in Afghan culture.
Nance asked Bales why he committed these crimes.
Ive asked that question a million times since then and theres not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did, he said.
In addition to the premeditated and attempted murder charges, Bales also pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault, two counts of use and possession of a controlled substance, and one count of consuming alcoholic beverages while deployed to Afghanistan. After his arrest, a drug test detected the presence of stanozolol, a steroid, in his system. Bales did not have a prescription for steroids, but admitted having four bottles in his containerized housing unit at VSP Belambay.
Until Wednesday, Bales said he didnt remember any of the events surrounding the massacre, claiming to only recently begin to recall the details. He did not testify in a preliminary hearing at JBLM in November 2012, but Afghan witnesses gave their accounts of the attacks via video teleconference.
Blood evidence presented during the hearing showed at least four different profiles of human DNA on Bales uniform. One of those profiles matched blood spatter inside one of the homes where Bales carried out an attack. In closing arguments at the preliminary hearing, Army prosecutors had recommended a death-penalty court-martial.
A sentencing trial is scheduled for the week of Aug. 19, when a military panel consisting of at least one-third enlisted personnel will decide Bales punishment. The only sentencing issue that remains is whether he serves life with or without the possibility of parole.
Bales is a married father of two from Ohio who lived locally in Lake Tapps. He spent his entire Army career with 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., and was on his fourth combat deployment when the incident occurred.