JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan villagers during a pre-dawn rampage last year appeared in a military courtroom Tuesday for a hearing that focused largely on what might happen if he's convicted, including which family members and friends could speak on his behalf.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over who might testify in support of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales at any sentencing hearing, should it come to that. Such testimony could help determine whether he receives the death penalty.
The Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of murdering Afghan villagers, mostly women and children, early on March 11, 2012. Bales, who was on his fourth combat deployment, slipped away from his base in southern Afghanistan to attack two nearby villages and returned soaked in blood, prosecutors say.
He has not yet entered a plea, but it is standard under military law for pretrial motions to address sentencing issues.
Bales' court martial has been set for September. His lawyers maintain that they cannot be ready to try a death penalty case by then. One of them, Emma Scanlan, is due to give birth that month.
The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, set what he described as a flexible deadline of May 29 for Bales' lawyers to say whether they will present any sort of mental health defense at trial or during sentencing.
Defense attorneys previously gave the court a list of witnesses they intend to call at sentencing — people who might show their client in a good light or explain anything troubling in his background that might warrant leniency.
Army prosecutors told the judge that not all of the witnesses were necessary. In some cases, the judge, Col. Col. Jeffery Nance, agreed: It likely would be redundant for two of Bales' older brothers to testify, he said, and so defense attorneys should call just one.
Likewise, the judge said, the defense would not need to call a teacher, principal and football coach from Norwood High School in Norwood, Ohio, where Bales grew up. Two of the three would do, he said.
But Nance did say Bales' mother and aunt both would be allowed to speak, as they offered differing perspectives on his life. Such testimony from the aunt could include family mental health issues or descriptions of Bales' mother's use of alcohol while she was pregnant with him, the judge suggested.