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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to Plead Guilty to Murdering 16 Afghan Civilians in Deal to Avoid Execution

Staff Sgt. Robert BalesA US soldier who massacred 16 innocent Afghan civilians during a March 2012 rampage is expected to strike a plea deal that will spare him from execution.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier charged with killing 16 Afghans in Panjwai, Kandahar last March 11, will plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, his lawyer told the New York Times on Wednesday.

In what is the deadliest war crime committed by a single US service member during the so-called ‘War on Terror,’ Staff Sgt. Bales, 39, snuck away from his small base in the early morning hours and shot or stabbed to death 16 innocent Afghan civilians in two nearby villages before burning some of his victims’ bodies. A total of 16 people, including nine children, were murdered in the villages of Alkozai and Balandi. Balandi farmer Samad Khan lost 11 members of his family to Bales’ attack.

Bales, who is married with two young children, suffered a traumatic brain injury during a vehicle rollover while serving in Iraq. The New York Times reported that he’d been drinking alcohol and was suffering from intense stress related to his fourth combat deployment. Democracy Now! reports that Bales was drinking bootleg alcohol and snorting prescription medication at the time of the deadly rampage.

In December, the Army announced that it would seek the death penalty as punishment for Bales’ crimes. But many observers were skeptical that he would be brought to justice; acquittals and light sentences are far more common in the US military justice system.

For example, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, a Marine who ordered his troops to “shoot first, ask questions later” during a 2005 massacre of 24 innocent Iraqi civilians in Haditha in which men, women and children were murdered in cold blood, originally faced up to 152 years behind bars. But Wuterich struck a plea deal allowing him to avoid prison, enraging Iraqis and human rights advocates.

John Henry Browne, Bales’ lawyer, who has represented high-profile defendants including the serial killer Ted Bundy, said that military prosecutors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state had agreed to a plea deal, which could be presented to a judge in the coming week.

Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman for the base, could not confirm the deal but said that a plea hearing is set for next Wednesday.

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