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Witnesses to describe massacre at Sgt. Bales hearing

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the American soldier charged with a grisly massacre of Afghan civilians, appears in a Washington state military courtroom Monday on accusations that he killed 16 villagers as they slept. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

Updated at 1 p.m. ET — A military hearing for Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of carrying out a pre-dawn slaughter of Afghan villagers, was set to hear the accounts of family members and victims in Afghanistan via live video call Friday.

The testimony comes one day after a forensic expert testified that she had matched blood from Bales' clothing to DNA removed from the scene of the killings.

The Article 32 hearings, similar to pre-trial hearings in a civilian court, were to determine whether there was sufficient evidence from the March 11 killings of 16 people in two villages — most of them women and children — to proceed with a court martial of Bales.

Bales, a 39-year-old decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.

The shootings in Afghanistan's Kandahar province marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and damaged already strained U.S.-Afghan relations.

Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Bales has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify. His attorneys, who did not give an opening statement, have not discussed the evidence, but say Bales has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury during a prior deployment to Iraq.

Two victims and four relatives of victims are scheduled to testify from Afghanistan against the American soldier on Friday night, starting at 7:30 p.m. PT (10:30 p.m. ET). 

Also slated to appear are two Afghan National Army guards present at Camp Belambay at the time of the events. Their testimony may shed light on conflicting accounts already presented in court.

One U.S. soldier testified on Tuesday that he was told by one of the Afghan guards that two U.S. soldiers were seen entering the compound in the early hours of March 11, and one was seen leaving again, apparently contradicting government prosecutors' version of events.

The government — in a theory supported by several witnesses on Monday — contends that Bales left and entered the compound twice on his own, and acted alone.

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Some Afghan villagers said after the shootings that more than one U.S. soldier was directly involved. Friday's hearing could be the first time such testimony is made public under oath, potentially casting doubt on the U.S. government's theory that Bales was solely responsible for the killings.

On Thursday, the court heard from an Army forensics specialist who testified that she had discovered traces of blood from nine individuals — four females and five males — on Bales' clothing, but only one of the DNA samples matched blood found at the crime scene. 

Christine Trapolsi, a DNA examiner with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation laboratory, said there was blood on Bales' camouflage clothing, underwear, socks and shoes.

"I tried to take what I thought was a representative item," she said, describing how she cut blood-stained swatches of clothing taken from Bales after he returned to his Camp Belambay base.

Her testimony was the first to physically link Bales to the crime scene with forensic evidence. She said she compared the samples to blood swabs taken from three compounds in the villages of Alkozai and Najiban where prosecutors say Bales killed his victims and attempted to burn some of the bodies.

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But the DNA of only one of the nine unidentified people whose blood was found on Bales' clothing matched samples taken from one of the Afghan homes, Trapolsi said.

A second expert said materials taken from a pillow in an Afghan house where Bales allegedly carried out the assault matched fibers on the "cape" he wore that night, the News Tribune reported.

Soldiers who took Bales into custody on the early hours of March 11 reported that he was wearing a t-shirt, combat pants, a helmet, night vision goggles and a makeshift cape that appeared to be a decorative window or door covering.

After the killings, investigators could not get to the crime scenes in the two villages near the camp for three weeks because of the risk of attack by enraged Afghans. This complicated evidence-gathering.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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