Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was sentenced Friday to life in prison without a chance of parole for a 2012 killing spree outside a remote Afghanistan outpost that left 16 Afghans dead, a military jury at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state decided.
Bales, 40, pleaded guilty in June to premeditated murder and other charges in a deal to avoid a death sentence. A military jury was charged this week with determining if Bales would have a chance for parole.
Bales apologized Thursday for as he made his case for why he should someday have a chance at freedom. He did not recount specifics of the horrors, but described the March 11, 2012 slaughter of villagers, mostly women and children, as an "act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, (expletive) and bravado."
"I'm truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away," he said. "If I could bring their family members back, I would in a heartbeat."
Defense attorneys John Henry Browne and Emma Scanlan were seeking a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years.
The defense followed two days of testimony from nine Afghans. Among them: Haji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife and six of his seven children.
He told the six-member jury Wednesday that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life. He was in another village with his youngest son, now 5-year-old Habib Shah, during the attack.
Bales claimed at the June plea hearing that he had been drinking contraband alcohol, snorting Valium and taking steroids before the attack. He was serving his fourth tour in a combat zone. The allegations against him raised questions about the toll multiple deployments take on U.S. servicemembers.
Bales said he had been taking the steroids to improve his fitness and that they "definitely increased my irritability and anger.''
The steroid, stanozolol, is a class three controlled substance. Bales was taking it without a prescription or authorization.
The Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was charged with 16 counts of premeditated murder in the shootings or stabbings of mostly women and children. He was accused of slipping away from his outpost at Camp Belambay early March 11, 2012, and attacking mud-walled compounds in two nearby villages.
Bales described one of the killings, saying he "went to the nearby village of Alkozai. While inside a compound in Alkozai, I observed a female I now know to be Na'ikmarga. I formed the intent to kill Na'ikmarga, and I did kill Na'ikmarga by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, sir."
Nine of the victims, five women and four men, were shot first, and their bodies were burned.
"I remember there being a lantern in the room,'' Bales said at his plea hearing. "I remember there being a fire after that situation, and I remember coming back ... with matches in my pocket."
He said he did not remember throwing the lantern on the bodies, but "I have seen the pictures, and it's the only thing that makes sense. "
After killing four people in the first village, he returned to his base, then went out again, he said. When the judge asked him what he expected to do, he said he expected to find people and, "Sir, I expected to kill them. "
Bales is with the Army's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is an amalgamation of the Army's Fort Lewis and the Air Force's McChord Air Force Base. It supports more than 40,000 active-duty Guard and Reserve servicemembers. Bales worked on the base and lived about 30 miles west of it.