SEATTLE — Lawyers for the American soldier convicted of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids last year want the entire prosecution team removed from the case before his sentencing, which is scheduled for this month.
John Henry Browne, a civilian attorney for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, told The Associated Press on Tuesday the prosecutors were inadvertently given a copy of compelled statements Bales made to Army psychiatrists, and then read them — even though they knew they weren’t supposed to.
Bales pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty. A sentencing-phase trial set to begin Aug. 19 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle will determine whether he receives life in prison with the possibility of parole or without it.
The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, mistakenly gave the prosecution team an unredacted copy of the psychiatric evaluation, rather than a redacted version that had been prepared by the defense, Browne said.
The Army did not immediately have a comment, a spokesman at the base said. Browne indicated that the judge set a hearing for next Tuesday to discuss the matter.
“The trial team got ahold of a thorough psychiatric evaluation done on Sgt. Bales that they should never have had access to, and they admitted they read it,” Browne said. “I don’t think the judge has many options aside from dismissing the trial team.”
Bales made the statements as part of a “sanity review” by military doctors, aimed at determining whether he was sane at the time of the attacks and whether he was capable of standing trial. The Army is entitled to the short conclusions of the doctors, but not the full report, Browne argued, saying the statements were protected by his client’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Bales, an Ohio native and married father of two young children, admitted leaving his post in Kandahar Province before dawn on March 11, 2012, to attack two villages of mud-walled compounds nearby. In pleading guilty, he told the judge, “There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did.”