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Lawyers For Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales To Ask For Leniency


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. We're following developments in Egypt after today's release from prison of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. We'll go to Cairo in a moment. We begin this hour with stories of two military trials in this country. Both involve horrendous massacres.

GREENE: One was at Fort Hood, Texas. The other took place in adjoining villages in southern Afghanistan. The details, as told by the victims, are hard to listen to.

MONTAGNE: We go first to a sentencing hearing, which continues today for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He's the soldier who attacked two, small Afghan villages last year. The massacre killed 16 men, women and children. Bales pleaded guilty in June, so he is guaranteed a life sentence. The only question is whether he'll have a chance at parole.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, today Bales' lawyers will make the case for leniency.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: It's a tall order, leniency for Robert Bales, especially after what the jury heard on Tuesday and yesterday. First, the prosecutors laid out the attack in excruciating detail: his middle-of-the-night foray into the sleeping villages; his close-range shooting of children, despite their cries for mercy.

Then survivors took the stand; the Army flew in nine of them. Yesterday, it was the turn of two men who'd been away from the village at the time of the massacre. They told the court what it was like to come home and find their families' partially burned bodies stacked up like cordwood.

Forty-one-year-old Khamal Adin recalled seeing the corpse of an infant with a shoe print on her face. Then his cousin, Haji Muhammed Wazir, took the stand. He lost his mother, his wife, his brother, and six of his seven children. Through an interpreter, Wazir said that even now, more than a year later, it feels to him as if the massacre is still happening.

After the prosecutor's last question, Wazir asked to make a further statement. The judge didn't allow it. That frustrated Wazir, who clearly had something more he'd planned to say.

The defense started its case with Bales' older brother, Bill, who talked about their blue-collar upbringing in Ohio. He recalled how Robert Bales had cared for a neighbor's mentally disabled son, and he repeatedly referred to Bales as "my baby brother" and "Bobby." He says his little brother lived an easygoing life in Florida until 9/11. The terrorist attack, he says, is what inspired his brother to sign up with the Army.

Prosecutors tried to undermine that narrative of selfless patriotism. They pointed out that his enlistment may have coincided with 9/11, but it also coincided with his personal legal troubles, including an investigation for financial fraud.

The thing the defense lawyers have not mentioned yet is Bales' mental state. That's been the most contentious part of this legal process. The court martial was held up for months when his lawyers resisted the terms of a mandatory Army psychological examination. His attorneys are likely to focus on combat stress - Bales was on his fourth deployment - as well as on alcohol and drug use.

At the same time, his lawyers do not want to appear to offer excuses. After the hearing yesterday, his attorney said Bales will take the stand and speak to the jury, and he will apologize for his crimes.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.

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