Soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan villagers agrees to plead guilty to avoid death penalty

by: Richard Thompson Updated:

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is ready to admit he is guilty of mass murder to avoid the death penalty.

Bales is prepared to plead guilty to killing 16 civilians, including nine children, in a killing spree in two Afghan villages in March 2012.

In exchange for pleading guilty, Bales will avoid the death penalty, according to his attorney John Henry Browne, who told KIRO-7, "I never thought we would get here, to tell you the truth."

Click here to see photos from the Robert Bales case.

Since the case began, Browne set out to show Bales had been stretched to the breaking point by repeated deployments that included one in which he saw a close friend lose a limb in a roadside bombing. Browne also argued the Bales had suffered a traumatic brain injury and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Browne told KIRO 7 not only will the plea deal take the death penalty off the table for Bales but Browne will also have a chance to argue Bales should eventually be given the chance of parole. 

"The fact that we can argue for life with the possibility of parole is huge," Browne said.

Browne previously indicated Bales remembered little from the night of the massacre, but he said the soldier will give a full account of what happened before the judge decides whether to accept the plea.

Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., slipped away from his remote southern Afghanistan outpost at Camp Belambay early on March 11, 2012, and attacked mud-walled compounds in two slumbering villages nearby.

Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were piled and burned. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan. It was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

Bales was serving his fourth tour in a combat zone, and the allegations against him raised questions about the toll multiple deployments were taking on American troops. For that reason, many legal experts believed it that it was unlikely that he would receive the death penalty, as Army prosecutors were seeking. The military justice system hasn't executed anyone since 1961.

Nevertheless, the plea deal could inflame tensions in Afghanistan.

In interviews with the AP in Kandahar in April, relatives of the victims became outraged at the notion Bales might escape the death penalty and even vowed revenge.

"For this one thing, we would kill 100 American soldiers," said Mohammed Wazir, who had 11 family members killed that night, including his mother and 2-year-old daughter.

A sentencing-phase trial set for September will determine whether Bales is sentenced to life in prison with or life without the possibility of parole. The judge and commanding general must approve a plea deal.

Bales' wife Kari has supported him since the killings. She told KIRO-7 in earlier interviews she believed her husband was innocent and wanted to prove it, saying, "He's keeping a very positive attitude that everything is comes out in the end and we find the truth."

Prosecutor: Bales had blood of victims on him (Nov. 5, 2012)

Wife of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' statement (March 19, 2012)

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to undergo sanity review (March 17, 2013)