Robert Bales To Be Charged With 17 Counts Of Murder

Mar 22, 2012

The Army soldier suspected of going on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan will be charged with 17 counts of murder, the AP, NBC News and Reuters are reporting.

The news organizations are pinning the report on unnamed U.S. officials.

NBC News reports Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will face six additional counts of assault and attempted murder in connection the March 11 massacre in southern Afghanistan.

Earlier today, the Pentagon upped the death toll from the shootings to 17 from 16.

The AP adds:

"The charges are to be read to Bales on Friday. He is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"The killings were yet another blow to U.S-Afghan relations, following a series of missteps, including the accidental burning of Qurans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings American troops in the war zone."

Update at 6:52 p.m. ET. NPR Confirms:

NPR's Tom Bowman has confirmed that Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder. Tom reports that it is unclear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty, but charges will be formally presented tomorrow.

Update at 6:56 p.m. ET. The Death Penalty?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the death penalty is possible for Bales, if he is found guilty of the charges. But reviewing previous military cases, the AP reports that's unlikely.

The AP reports:

"History shows that the U.S. military system is slow to convict Americans, particularly service members, of alleged war crimes. And when a punishment is imposed, it can range anywhere from life in prison all the way down to house arrest. Other factors can seem to play more of a role than the crime itself."

Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. What's Next?

NPR's Tom Bowman tells our Newscast unit that after the charges are filed, the Army will initiate an Article 32 hearing, which is the Army equivalent of a grand jury That will determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with a court martial.

Tom says he understands the charges will be brought out of Kabul.

"We understand that Lieutenant General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, who is the number two American officer in Afghanistan, will put out a statement announcing the charges," says Tom. "And then we understand that the United States Army in Pentagon will also put out a statement, laying forth the process after the charges are filed."

Update at 7:30 p.m. ET. 'Fully Expecting It'll Be A Capital Charge':

Bales' civilian attorney John Henry Browne tells NPR's Martin Kaste that he has not seen the charges against his client.

But he said he would "guess [capital punishment] is on the table."

"We're fully expecting that it'll be a capital charge," Browne said in a phone interview.

Browne said his team is in "traditional defense attorney mode" right now.

"We want to know what the facts are," he said. "There's no traditional crime scene, there's no DNA. There's no ballistics. We don't know of the validity of any eyewitnesses. It's really going to be a very interesting case in the sense of what the government can prove."

Kaste asked Browne about his earlier comments that Bales had no memory of the shootings.

He said in the CBS interview, he was asked about an insanity defense.

"I said if there was a defense in this case, it wouldn't be insanity," he said, "it would be diminished capacity."

He added that he didn't want to say anything else about Bales' mental state, "until we see what we think the government can prove."

Update at 8:56 p.m. Stepping Back From 'Diminished Capacity' Defense

Browne is now telling NPR's Kaste that his comments about a "diminished capacity" defense for Bales were "a little bit taken out of context."

"It was a question about the insanity defense, and I was kind of in my professor mode, and saying, 'Well, if there was a mental defense in this case, it wouldn't be insanity, it would be diminished capacity,'" he said.

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