* Defense says Army sergeant also diagnosed with traumatic
* Military judge to order independent psychiatric review
* Entering of plea postponed; defense wants 18 months to
By Laura L. Myers
TACOMA, Wash., Jan 17 A U.S. soldier charged
with capital murder in the slayings of 16 civilians near his
military post in Afghanistan was diagnosed as suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury prior
to the killings, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Robert
Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and
Afghanistan who is accused of gunning down the villagers, mostly
women and children, in cold blood during two rampages through
their family compounds in Kandahar province last March.
The disclosure that Bales was diagnosed with PTSD followed a
hearing in which defense lawyers told a military judge they were
preparing a possible "mental health defense" for Bales, who
appeared in court wearing a green military dress uniform.
The judge, Colonel Jeffery Nance, said such a defense would
require a formal psychiatric evaluation and he would order a
"sanity board" of independent doctors to review Bales' mental
During Thursday's 90-minute hearing at Joint Base
Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, where Bales is being held in
detention, defense lawyers also deferred entering a plea on
behalf of their client and waived a formal reading of the
Asked by the judge whether he understood that the case
against him could result in the death penalty, Bales, 39, an
Army staff sergeant, replied, "Sir, yes sir."
Under the military justice system, a plea is commonly
postponed at this stage to preserve legal options for the
defense, whose ability to make additional motions is severely
restricted once a plea is entered, experts say.
Civilian defense lawyer John Henry Browne told the judge,
Colonel Jeffery Nance, that he would need at least a year and a
half to prepare for Bales' defense.
BRAIN INJURY DIAGNOSIS FOLLOWED IED BLAST IN IRAQ
Prosecutors say Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps,
Washington, acted alone and with "chilling premeditation" when,
armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his
base twice, returning in the middle of his rampage to tell a
fellow soldier: "I just shot up some people."
The shootings, which occurred over a five-hour period in
March, marked one of the deadliest incidents the military has
blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War, and
strained U.S.-Afghan relations.
Browne told reporters he doubted Bales would get a fair
trial unless "we slow this thing down."
He said two Afghans that prosecutors had listed as potential
witnesses in the case turned out to be insurgents who were
killed by U.S.-led forces, a claim that could not be immediately
corroborated with U.S. military officials.
Browne said he had government documentation showing that
personnel at Lewis-McChord's Madigan Medical Center had found
his client to be suffering from both post-traumatic stress
disorder and a traumatic brain injury.
He said the diagnosis was made in early 2012 before Bales
was sent to Afghanistan on a deployment that ended abruptly with
the events for which he is charged.
Defense lawyers previously have said Bales had suffered a
possible concussion from a bomb blast during a prior tour of
duty in Iraq.
Bales was bound over for court-martial in December and faces
16 murder charges, as well as other charges, including attempted
murder, assault and drug and alcohol charges.
During a pre-trial hearing in November witnesses testified
that he had been angered by a bomb blast near his outpost that
severed a fellow soldier's leg days before the shootings.
The government believes Bales was solely responsible for the
deaths, and survivors have testified that they saw only one U.S.
soldier. However, several indirect accounts have suggested more
than one soldier may have been involved.
Defense attorney Emma Scanlan said Bales would participate
in a review of his mental state, but wanted him to be examined
by a neuropsychologist with expertise in traumatic brain
injuries. She also wanted defense attorneys to be present at the
examination, which the defense wants recorded.