JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan villagers during predawn raids on mud-walled compounds last year is expected to face several survivors of the massacre and relatives of the dead who are outraged his life will be spared.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., pleaded guilty in June to avoid capital punishment for killing the civilians, mostly women and children, on March 11, 2012.
His sentencing hearing begins Tuesday with the selection of at least five jurors whose only task will be to determine whether his life sentence offers a chance of parole.
The Army has flown nine villagers from Kandahar province to testify in Pashtun through an interpreter about how the attack has affected their lives.
Several villagers testified by video link from Afghanistan during a hearing last year, including a young girl in a bright headscarf who described hiding behind her father as he was shot to death. Boys told of begging the soldier to spare them, yelling: "We are children! We are children!" A thick-bearded man told of being shot in the neck by a gunman at arm's length.
The villagers, some of whom were infuriated Bales is escaping the death penalty, have not encountered him since the attack, nor have they heard him apologize. Bales, who couldn't explain to a judge why he committed the killings, did not say he was sorry, but his lawyers hinted an apology might come at sentencing.