Robert Bales to Plead Guilty to Afghanistan Massacre to Avoid Death Penalty

Robert Bales to Plead Guilty to Avoid Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales
Spc. Ryan Hallock, 28th Public Affairs/U.S. Army/ZUMA

05/29/2013 AT 06:00 PM EDT

The Army staff sergeant charged with slaughtering 16 villagers during one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war has agreed to plead guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty, his attorney told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is scheduled to enter guilty pleas to charges of premeditated murder June 5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, said lawyer John Henry Browne.

A sentencing-phase trial set for September will determine whether he is sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole. The judge and the commanding general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Bales is being held, must approve a plea deal.

"The judge will be asking questions of Sgt. Bales about what he did, what he remembers and his state of mind," Browne said. "The deal that has been worked out ... is they take the death penalty off the table, and he pleads as charged, pretty much."

Browne previously indicated Bales remembered little from the night of the massacre, and he said that was true in the early days after the attack. But as further details and records emerged, Bales began to remember what he did, the lawyer said, and he will admit to "very specific facts" about the shootings.

Bales is contrite about the killings, Browne said. The attorney would not elaborate on what his client will tell the judge. He described Bales as "crazed" and "broken" the night of the attack.

The defense team, including military lawyers assigned to Bales as well as Browne's co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, eventually determined after having Bales examined by psychiatrists that he would not be able to prove any claim of insanity or diminished capacity at the time of the attack, Browne said.

"His mental state does not rise to the level of a legal insanity defense," Browne said. "But his state of mind will be very important at the trial in September. We'll talk about his mental capacities or lack thereof, and other factors that were important to his state of mind."

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. He had been drinking contraband alcohol, snorting Valium that was provided to him by another soldier, and had been taking steroids before the attack.

Testimony at a hearing last fall established that Bales returned to his base between attacking the villages, woke up a fellow soldier and confessed. The soldier didn't believe him and went back to sleep, and Bales left again to continue the slaughter.

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.

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