by: Kevin McCarty Updated:
When prosecution witnesses testified about the murders Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed in Afghanistan on March 11, 2012, they painted a picture of a cold-blooded killer who targeted women, children and old men.
Defense witnesses told a different story on the stand Wednesday, a story about Bobby Bales, the high school football captain and class president. The fun, popular caring young man known as "Good Time Bobby" who helped a severely developmentally disabled neighbor and enlisted in the army after the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, put his client's older brother, Bill Bales, and former next-door neighbor, Robert Durham, on the witness stand to testify before a military jury in an effort to show the young man he said Bales was before years of war and financial problems caused him to snap, killing 16 Afghan civilians in a late-night rampage outside of this base near Kandahar
"Robert Bales did things when he was 14, 15, 16 years old that were amazing," said Browne.
Bales' brother Bill Bales, 16 years his senior, referred to Bales as his baby brother as he talked about his time in Norwood, Ohio, where the family lived a working class life with an alcoholic father.
Bill Bales said his younger brother was popular and had a way with people, describing him as gregarious and outgoing. He said the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed Bales, who announced at 27 years old that he was giving up his freewheeling life living on the beach in Florida to join the Army.
Durham also testified about his experience with Bales as his neighbor in Norwood. He said Bales was named for his father, Robert, a close friend of the family. He said the young Bobby Bales was like his dad's best buddy and showed up at so many family functions at the Durham home that some neighbors thought he was a member of their family. Durham broke down as he testified about a teenage Bales caring for his developmentally disabled son, Wade.
Army prosecutors tried to link Bales' enlistment in the Army with a case of civil fraud being investigated by Bank of America, but Judge Col. Jeffery Nance limited questions about the allegation saying it was not in evidence and could not be considered by the jury.
After the day's proceedings, Browne spoke about Bales in nearly glowing terms, saying he was trying to show the jury that will decide whether or not he spend the rest of his life in prison with or without the possibility of parole the real Robert Bales.
During a post-hearing news conference Browne became angry with a persistent line of questions comparing Bales to other soldiers who have faced the stress of combat and life without committing crimes and targeting innocent civilians.
"I'll get Sgt. Bales boots out here and you wear them." Browne said, "and I'll tell you what he had to go through and you tell me how you'd deal with that. Until you're willing to do that don't ask me that question."
Testimony by defense witnesses, including doctors who will address Bales' mental and physical health are expected to testify Thursday and possibly into the weekend.