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Afghanistan massacre case: Army to seek death penalty against US soldier

Spc. Ryan Hallock / DVIDS via EPA file

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, seen here at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Aug. 23, 2011, is accused of murdering 16 Afghan villagers.

The case of a decorated U.S. Army sergeant accused of murdering 16 civilians in two Afghanistan villages will proceed to a court-martial and he could face the death penalty if convicted, the Army said Wednesday.

The military’s General Court-Martial Convening Authority this week referred charges against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to a general court-martial. The decision came after a review of evidence from a pretrial hearing last month.

No date has been set for the court-martial, which will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma, Wash.

Bales, 39, faces charges of premeditated murder and other crimes in the predawn shooting and stabbing attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan early on March 11. Prosecutors say he left his remote base, attacked one village, returned to the base, and then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound.

Sixteen people were killed, nine of them children, and six other civilians wounded.

Army prosecutors have suggested Bales went on the rampage in revenge for a bomb attack on his unit in which a fellow soldier lost a leg.

At the time, Bales, an 11-year Army veteran, was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and was serving his fourth combat tour.  He is currently being held at the Northwest Joint Regional Confinement Facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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For the death penalty to be imposed, the court-martial members must unanimously find:  the service member is guilty of the eligible crime; at least one aggravating factor exists; and that the aggravating factor must substantially outweigh any extenuating or mitigating circumstances.  

The charges are merely accusations and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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