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Friday August 23, 2013 MYT 6:15:02 PM
Friday August 23, 2013 MYT 6:16:05 PM
by jonathan kaminsky
TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - Closing arguments are expected on Friday in the sentencing hearing that will determine the fate of a decorated U.S. soldier who gunned down 16 unarmed Afghan civilians in a pre-dawn rampage last year.
Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has admitted to slaughtering the villagers, mostly women and children, in attacks on their family compounds in Kandahar province in March 2012.
Bales pleaded guilty to the killings in June in a deal that will spare him the death penalty. A jury of six military personnel will ultimately decide if he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be eligible for parole after 20 years.
He apologized in court on Thursday for the massacre, calling it "an act of cowardice."
Defense lawyers have been seeking to show that Bales carried out the killings after suffering a breakdown under the pressure of the last of his four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. They say he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before shipping off to Kandahar province.
"How do you explain that other than he snapped?" Bales' civilian defense lawyer, John Henry Browne, told reporters after the defense rested its case on Thursday. "There's really no other explanation."
Army prosecutors have said Bales acted alone and with premeditation when, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his outpost twice during the night, returning in the middle of his rampage to tell a fellow soldier, "I just shot up some people."
The killings marked the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and further eroded strained U.S.-Afghan relations after more than a decade of conflict in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors have said they hope to show that Bales exhibited a pattern of bad behaviour, some of which predated his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In court, they pointed out two drunken driving arrests and his alleged involvement in a fraudulent investment scheme.
The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday after calling witnesses that included nine Afghans who had been flown to the United States to testify, among them a man who lost six of his seven children and other members of his family.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Mohammad Zargham)
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