Prosecutors seek death for U.S. soldier charged in Afghan rampage
By Bill Rigby
TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - Military prosecutors said on Monday they would seek the death penalty for a U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers when he ventured out of his camp on two revenge-fuelled drunken forays earlier this year.
The lead prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Morse, told a preliminary hearing he would present evidence proving "chilling premeditation" on the part of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The shootings of mostly women and children in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in March marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and eroded already strained U.S.-Afghan ties after more than a decade of conflict in the country.
Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.
Morse said he was submitting a "capital referral" in the case, requesting that Bales be executed if convicted.
The hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state was expected to last two weeks and include witness testimony from Afghanistan carried by live video, including testimony from villagers and Afghan soldiers.
At the end, military commanders will decide whether there is sufficient evidence for Bales to stand trial by court-martial.
Bales, dressed in camouflage Army fatigues with his head shaven, embraced his wife in court before the hearing began. He then sat silently watching the proceedings from the defence table as Morse summarized the prosecution's account of the events of March 10-11. Continued...