Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

U.S. soldier to be court-martialed, could face death penalty

U.S. soldier could get death penalty

    Just Watched

    U.S. soldier could get death penalty

U.S. soldier could get death penalty 03:11

Story highlights

  • NEW: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' attorney calls Army, government prosecutors "irresponsible"
  • Bales' wife, Karilyn, says she's unsure if he can get a fair trial
  • Bales is accused of killing 16 and wounding six Afghans in March shooting spree

A U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting rampage could face the death penalty if he is found guilty in a court-martial.

The military has referred the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to a court-martial authorized to consider capital punishment, according to a military statement released Wednesday.

Another six Afghans were wounded in the spree near a small U.S. base in Afghanistan's Kandahar province last March, the military said.

"The charges are merely accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty," the military emphasized in its statement.

Bales' defense attorney John Henry Browne said Wednesday he didn't receive any notice from the Army or the prosecutors about the decision to pursue the death penalty; he said he found out about it through the media.

Sgt. Bales wife: "We are truly blessed"

    Just Watched

    Sgt. Bales wife: "We are truly blessed"

Sgt. Bales wife: "We are truly blessed" 01:14
Charges added to Afghan shooting suspect

    Just Watched

    Charges added to Afghan shooting suspect

Charges added to Afghan shooting suspect 02:33
Bales' attorney: Military broke promise

    Just Watched

    Bales' attorney: Military broke promise

Bales' attorney: Military broke promise 01:30

"That's how much we seem to matter to the prosecutors and the general," quipped Browne.

"I am concerned this is a death penalty case, but I am not surprised. We've prepared him for this. He knows he's being singled out," Browne said.

"We understand that decision, but we think it's totally irresponsible of the government and the Army," Bales' lawyer said.

"We think the Army is attempting to escape responsibility for the decision to send Sgt. Bales to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment, knowing that he had (post-traumatic stress disorder) and a concussive head injury," Browne said. "I think that the person who made the decision to send Sgt. Bales to the most dangerous area in Afghanistan in a small outpost is responsible for Sgt. Bales being in Afghanistan, and he should have never been there."

Bales' wife, Karilyn, has called the accusations "completely out of character of the man I know and admire."

In a statement released Wednesday, she wrote, "I no longer know if a fair trial for Bob is possible, but it very much is my hope and I will have faith."

She and their children visit Bales every weekend, and "for a few hours I can see and feel the love that flows" between them, she added.

Afghan authorities have pushed for swift action.

"He committed a mass killing crime, and we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime," Ahmad Zia Syamak, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told CNN last month.

But Browne said prosecutors may regret hastily moving the case forward.

"The reality is almost every death case in the Army -- almost every -- has been overturned on appeal, and there hasn't been an execution in the Army since the early '60s," Browne said, referencing the 1961 hanging of Pvt. John Bennett.

Read more: Afghan survivor: 'He just started shooting'

      CNN Recommends

    • pkg clancy north korea nuclear dreams_00002004.jpg

      As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
    • Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
    • pkg rivers uk football match fixing_00005026.jpg

      Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
    • No Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberties, Mt. Rushmores, Taj Mahals, Aussie koalas or Chairman Maos.

      It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.