For the first time since he was taken into custody seven months ago, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is back at Joint Base Lewis-McChord awaiting a pretrial hearing on charges that he murdered 16 Afghan civilians during his deployment with a local Stryker brigade.
Bales, a former Lake Tapps resident and father of two, had been in confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. since the Army sprinted him out of Afghanistan following the March 11 killings. An Army spokesman confirmed that he arrived at Lewis-McChord’s Regional Confinement Center Monday evening.
He is expected to have a two-week pretrial hearing beginning Nov. 5 at Lewis-McChord where his defense attorney can interview all of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Afghan civilians from the rural Panjwai District in Kandahar Province where Bales allegedly slipped out of his combat outpost and massacred noncombatants in two villages.
His confinement at Lewis-McChord allows him to communicate more easily with his family in the Puget Sound and with his defense team.
“He can see his wife, he can see his children on a more regular basis,” Emma Scanlan, one of his attorneys, told Northwest News Network. “He’s going have much better access to his counsel which is important in terms of his case going forward, so we are very happy that he is coming out here.”
Bales also is accused of using alcohol and steroids during his deployment. His attorney has said he obtained the mood-altering substances from other service members at his combat outpost.
Bales faces the death penalty if he’s convicted of murder. That offense carries a mandatory minimim of a life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
John Henry Browne, his defense attorney, has some 5,000 pages of evidence from the Army. He is preparing to fly to Kandahar Air Field to cross examine the Army’s Afghan witnesses during the pretrial hearing. That testimony will be shown in court at Lewis-McChord.
Some Afghan witnesses have told international media that they saw more than one shooter the night of the killings. The Army and official Afghan government sources have discredited that testimony.
Browne on Monday would not say whether the witnesse statements in his possession suggest that more than one person was involved in the killings.
Bales grew up in Norwood, Ohio and enlisted in the Army in 2001. He served his Army career at Lewis-McChord and deployed with the base’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on all three of its missions to Iraq.
On one Iraq deployment, Browne has said that Bales suffered a concussive injury in a roadside bomb blast.
Bales is still assigned to the 3rd Brigade, though he served in a unit that was splintered off for a mission working with Special Forces at differents outposts across Southern Afghanistan.