An eight-day hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales wrapped up Tuesday with an Army prosecutor saying Bales should face the death penalty for committing "the worst, most despicable crimes a human being can commit, murdering children in their own homes."
Maj. Rob Stelles argument concluded a preliminary hearing in which the Army laid out eyewitness testimony, surveillance video and DNA evidence connecting Bales, 39, to the slaughter of 16 civilians, including nine children, in southern Afghanistan.
But Bales attorney and family urged caution by the officers responsible for deciding whether the Joint Base Lewis-McChord combat veteran should advance to a full court-martial that could put him on death row.
As a family, we all grieve deeply for the Afghani families who lost their loved ones on March 11, but we must not rush to judgment, Bales sister-in-law Stephanie Tandberg said outside the Lewis-McChord court building after the hearing. She stood next to Kari Bales, the defendants wife.
Last springs massacre amounts to the worst alleged war crimes of the 11-year conflict in Afghanistan. It took on a human face over the past week as the Army called on four children Bales allegedly wounded to testify against him through a video link from Kandahar province.
Two things are clear, Stelle said. One, something horrible happened around Village Stability Platform Belambay (Bales outpost)
The other thing that is clear is that Staff Sgt. Bales did it, the prosecutor said.
The next step calls on Col. Lee Deneke, the Army Reserve judicial officer who oversaw the hearing, to write a report recommending whether Bales should face a general court-martial, and whether the death penalty should be on the table at that trial. Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Robert Brown would likely make the final call.
Bales has not been arraigned and will not have to make a plea until well after Deneke finishes his report some time this weekend.
Emma Scanlan, Bales attorney, had asked Deneke to delay the preliminary hearing to give the defense more time to gather evidence. For instance, she said the defense team is still trying to determine if Bales received substandard care at Madigan Army Medical Center for a head injury on a past deployment.
Deneke declined to put off the hearing, and Scanlan on Tuesday urged him to be careful in recommending whether Bales should face the death penalty. Murder carries a mandatory minimum life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
There are unanswered questions about mental state, about timeline, about who this man is, Scanlan said.
Bales is a husband, a father of two and an Ohio native who used to live in Lake Tapps. He spent his entire Army career with the same Stryker Brigade at Lewis-McChord. He was a well-respected soldier, but he had trouble in his past, such as a $1.4 million fraud judgment against him before he joined the service.
His family stuck with him through a difficult eight days in court. His wife sat behind him each day, even as three of Bales friends testified that he often complained about problems at home.
After the closing arguments, Bales sister-in-law read a statement for the family that called the testimony painful, even heartbreaking. She also asked that people help ensure Bales receives a fair trial by making contributions to his legal defense fund, online at www.helpsgtbales.com.