by: Kevin McCarty Updated:
Thurston County, Wash. - The sentencing of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales could be delayed because of a simple error that sent Army prosecutors copies of a sanity board report they weren't supposed to see.
Attorneys for Bales went before a military judge Tuesday to argue that those prosecutors should be replaced before Bales is sentenced for the murder of 16 Afghan civilians during a killing spree in March 2012. Bales pleaded guilty to the murders on June 5 to avoid facing the death penalty. He could be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole. That decision will be made by a military jury.
Bales' defense team said when he was compelled by a military judge to be examined by a sanity board, Bales was guaranteed statements that could be incriminating would not be used against him in keeping with his Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution prohibiting self-incrimination.
But prosecutors were to receive portions of the report with many statements made by Bales removed or redacted. Bales' defense attorney John Henry Browne said they received an un-redacted copy from Judge Jeffry Nance by mistake. "He just pushed the wrong button on his computer apparently and un-redacted everything we redacted and sent them to the prosecution.
In his motion Browne claims the only way to protect Bales' rights is to replace the prosecution team with one that hasn't seen the report. Army prosecutors argued against that move in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McCord on Tuesday, saying they could simply leave out any information that should have been redacted.
Nance told both sides he would make a ruling as soon as possible. Bales' sentencing phase is supposed to begin Aug. 20 but could be delayed if a new prosecution team is appointed.