April 7, 2012 / 6:58 PM / in 6 years

Accused Afghan shooter's lawyer wants military counsel fired

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The civilian attorney representing the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers wants to replace the military lawyer assigned to the case after disagreements over how to handle his defense.

Attorney John Henry Browne (R), civil legal counsel to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) based soldier Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the then-deployed U.S. Army soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan civilians earlier this month, gestures while speaking at a press conference in his Seattle, Washington office March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante

“You are fired, sorry, but we have much more experience than you,” Seattle-based John Henry Browne, the outspoken lawyer who has been the public face of the defense of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, said in an email to military lawyer Major Thomas Hurley.

The Army assigns defense counsel such as Hurley to soldiers facing court martial but defendants also have the right to hire additional civilian counsel, in this case Browne. Any change in military counsel would have to be approved by the Army.

Browne’s associate Emma Scanlan confirmed the decision, saying she and her boss looked forward to working with another lawyer. “We wish Major Hurley the best in his future endeavors,” she said by email. Hurley declined to comment.

Browne’s team wants to work with a military attorney with death penalty case experience, the email to Hurley from Browne, part of a chain obtained by Reuters, showed. Hurley has more than 60 military cases under his belt, with three involving homicide charges, but none were capital cases.

The decision comes after friction between the civilian and military lawyers over Browne’s aggressive media strategy, and each side has accused the other of not being team players.

“Major Hurley is not a team player and has no experience in murder cases, we do,” Browne wrote in a separate email to Reuters. “We have gotten 17 not guilty verdicts in murder cases and have gotten life verdicts in all our death penalty cases.”

For his part, Hurley said Browne was the one who was not playing his role on the team.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (L) 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. REUTERS/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock/Handout

Last week, Browne unleashed a unilateral public attack on the way U.S. prosecutors are handling the investigation into the shooting and accused U.S. authorities of blocking access to potential witnesses.

There was also disagreement over the decision to put Bales’ wife on the Today show, where she said her husband showed no signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, potentially damaging Bales’ most likely defense.

Karilyn Bales also said her husband was ready to be deployed to Afghanistan, in the interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, parts of which were broadcast on March 25 and 26 on NBC.

Bales said she was not sure what post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms might be, but her husband did not have nightmares, trouble concentrating or display any erratic behavior shifts.

Such interviews “limit our options at trial or expose important witnesses to effective cross-examination that they would otherwise not have to face,” Hurley said in the email chain obtained by Reuters.

Browne told Reuters Karilyn’s ignorance of the signs of PTSD helped the defense, showing the extent to which soldiers try to keep the “hell of war” away from their families.

Bales, 38, has been formally charged with the murders of eight adults and nine children in a pre-dawn shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan on March 11.

The incident further eroded U.S.-Afghan relations already strained by a decade of war. He is awaiting mental evaluation at a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Bales, whose family hired Browne’s team, has the right to request new military counsel under the court martial system, so any request to replace Hurley will have to be confirmed by the accused soldier and approved by the Army.

Reporting By Peter Henderson and Bill Rigby; editing by Todd Eastham

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