Soldier guilty of killing 16 Afghan villagers sentenced to life without parole

Updated
By Elizabeth Chuck
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011.
Ryan Hallock/Handout/AP

Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier who carried out a massacre of Afghan villlagers last year, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A military jury of six handed down the sentence on Friday to Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty in last March’s attack. Sixteen Afghan civilians were gunned down in their family compounds. Most of the victims were women and children.

Bales took the witness stand on Thursday and apologized for the massacre, which was one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The killings represent the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War.

“I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away,” Bales, 40, a father of two, said. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.”

Bales, from Lake Tapps, Wash., left his outpost at Camp Belambay in Kandahar province in the middle of the night in March 2012 to attack two villages.

Army prosecutors say Bales acted alone and planned the killings, which he carried out with a rifle, a pistol and a grenade launcher, according to Reuters. He left his outpost twice during the night, returning in the middle of the attack to tell a fellow soldier, “I just shot up some people.”

Nine Afghans testified over two days about their lives since the brutal rampage, with at least one cursing at Bales, The Associated Press reported.

Haji Mohammad Wazir said he lost 11 relatives, including his mother, wife, and six out of his seven children.

“If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be,” Wazir said, according to the AP. “If anybody speaks to me about the incident … I feel the same, like it’s happening right now.”

Bales served four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His attorneys suggested post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings, but offered no testimony from psychiatrists or doctors.

During the trial, prosecutors highlighted criminal activity from Bales’ past, including a fraud investigation, a drunken-driving arrest in 2005 and a driving under the influence crash in 2008, and lies on his re-enlistment documents about his criminal history.

“He wiped out generations and he ruined lives forever,” said prosecutor Lt. Col. Jay Morse. “He should be known by one official title from this day until the day he dies: Inmate.”

This article first appeared at NBCnews.com with additional reporting from the Associated Press. For more information on this case, click here.

Soldier guilty of killing 16 Afghan villagers sentenced to life without parole

Updated