A U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting rampage could face the death penalty if 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.
“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,” said Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne. He called the referral “understandable but totally irresponsible.”
“I think the Army is trying to take focus off of the Army’s, the failure of the war in Afghanistan, by trying to make Sgt. Bales seem like a rogue soldier who acted alone. The Army sent him into intense combat into most the intense part of Afghanistan for a fourth tour [of] duty knowing that he had PTSD and a concussive brain injury,” Browne said.
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.
CNN’s Paul Vercammen contributed to this report
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