A defense lawyer for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales said Monday he expects his client to be charged in the murder of 16 Afghans on Thursday. Going into his first face-to-face meetings with Bales, Seattle attorney John Henry Browne said he expected military prosecutors to issue the most severe charges against his client, a 38-year-old career Army soldier and married father of two. And he suggested that the defense may try to argue that Bales should never have been sent to Afghanistan with a concussive brain injury in the first place.
"We know what they are going to say—it's something really bad," Browne told Bloomberg News' David Mildenberg in an interview Monday in Lansing, Kan., near the Fort Leavenworth base where Bales has been held since Friday. The accused staff sergeant is currently residing in a private cell in the military base's medium-security prison.
Reports that Bales' family had been suffering financial difficulties and other strains associated with his repeated absences due to three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan were not relevant, Browne said. He also disputed reported accounts from unnamed military officials that alcohol and marital strains may have been a factor leading up to Bales' alleged March 11 house-to-house shooting rampage, which left nine children dead.
"Everyone has had issues in their lives," Browne told Bloomberg. "Some people do six or seven tours, but the question is whether the last tour was too much for someone with a concussive brain injury."
Daniel Conway, a military lawyer who represented another U.S. soldier charged in 2010 with killing Afghan civilians and also from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, told Yahoo News Monday that a military jury is not likely to be sympathetic to a defense that argues Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was sent on too many deployments.
"Good luck trying to convince a military jury with a PTSD defense," Conway told Yahoo News in a telephone interview Monday. "A lot of them have multiple family stresses. It will be difficult to convince them that kind of defense" is legitimate.
What Browne is probably trying to do is not argue for a complete acquittal of Bales, Conway said, but instead work to ratchet down the charges. A full acquittal would require that Browne convince a military jury that his client "was unable to perceive the wrongfulness of his or her acts," Conway explained. "That's a tough hurdle."
More likely, Bales' defense will argue that his client's acts "were not premeditated," Conway said. That could possibly expose him to lesser offenses, such as second-degree murder or even manslaughter.Read More »from Lawyer John Henry Browne on Afghan killings suspect Robert Bales: Was ‘the last tour was too much for someone with a concussive brain injury?’