The soldier accused of one of the most high-profile massacres in the 12-year Afghanistan war pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering 16 Afghan civilians during a nighttime killing spree early last year.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales entered a guilty plea in military court on Wednesday in order to avoid the death penalty. He is accused of slipping away from his remote base in Southern Afghanistan in the pre-dawn hours of March 11, 2012, with his M-4 assault rifle and grenade launcher, and gunning down unarmed civilians, including nine children, in the nearby villages of Balandi and Alkozai.
Survivors testified in court via video link to graphic details of the attack that took place that night.
Bales, 39, will admit to "very specific facts about the killings," according to his attorney, John Henry Browne. The trial is taking place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Seattle.
Security camera footage at the base where Bales was assigned on his fourth combat tour shows him slipping out in the middle of the night. He reportedly greeted the Afghan guard in a local dialect when he returned with his clothes covered in blood. He left the base again that night and returned in the early morning, according to evidence presented in court.
Upon returning the second time, he dropped his weapon and was apprehended.
The sentencing phase of the court proceedings will be held this summer, which will determine whether Bales might earn parole.
His attorney Browne tells the Detroit Free Press that judge Army Col. Jeffrey Nance will question Bales closely about what happened before ruling on whether he will accept the soldier's plea.
"Tomorrow is going to be about what happened, then in August is going to be a jury trial about why it happened," Browne said, according to the Free Press. "Obviously, avoiding the death penalty is our No. 1 goal. We've accomplished that, assuming the judge accepts the plea, and we believe he will."
Bales' wife, Karilyn, has professed his innocence since the trial began.
CBS asked her last year whether she needed to ask her husband if he had committed these crimes.
"I don't need to ask him," she responded in the July interview about what she called "sensationalized" reports of her husband's activities in Afghanistan. "I know my husband. It's not a question I need to ask. I know him, I know what he's capable of and what he's not capable of."
Local Afghan customs make a case such as Bales' difficult to investigate. Afghans traditionally do not allow female witnesses to testify, and regional tradition allows the burning of dead bodies. Evidence presented in court showed some of the victims' bodies had been burned.
Bales has two young children who were 5 and 2 at the time. He had previously worked as a stock broker until his career imploded. He joined the Army before paying any of the $1.5 million an arbitrator ordered he pay for committing fraud.
The Army reports he was using steroids and abusing alcohol during his deployment. He reportedly suffered a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle flipped over during a patrol in Iraq in 2010, during one of his three tours there.
The day before his alleged murder spree, a roadside bomb blew the leg off of one of Bales' friends, prompting U.S. soldiers to angrily question locals, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
"I had no idea anything had happened to him until maybe a couple months after he had been back," his wife said.
Bales had expressed stress regarding financial difficulties to his wife a year before the killings took place, and he was disappointed at being passed over for a promotion.