FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – The Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime shooting rampage has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre, his lawyer said Monday after meeting his client for the first time.
Lawyer John Henry Browne said Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little or nothing of the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages.
“He has some memory of some things that happened that night. He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little,” Browne told the Associated Press by telephone from Fort Leavenworth, where Bales is being held.
Pressed on whether Bales can remember anything about the shooting, Browne said, “No,” but added: “I haven’t gotten that far with him yet.”
In an earlier interview with CBS, Browne said unequivocally that Bales can’t remember the shootings.
Meanwhile, records show Bales owes $1.5 million from an arbitration ruling nearly a decade ago that found him guilty of securities fraud.
Bales, 38, has not been charged in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.
Earlier Monday, Browne met with his client behind bars for the first time to begin building a defense.
Browne, a Seattle attorney who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit,” has said he has handled three or four military cases.
At their meeting, Browne said Bales clarified a story, provided initially by the soldier’s family, about the timing of a roadside bomb that blew off the leg of one of Bales’ friends. It was two days before the shooting, not one, and Bales didn’t see the explosion, just the aftermath, Browne said.
The details of the blast could not be immediately confirmed.
Military officials have said that Bales, after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, crept away to two villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the dead were children and 11 belonged to one family.
Bales’ wife, Karilyn, offered her condolences to the victims’ families and said Monday she wants to know what happened. She said her family and her in-laws are profoundly sad, and that what they’ve read and seen in news reports is “completely out of character of the man I know and admire.”
Court records and interviews show Bales had commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted in the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He also faced a number of problems in recent years: A Florida investment job went sour, his Seattle-area home was condemned as he struggled to make payments on another, and he failed to get a recent promotion. He also faces a $1.5 million securities fraud judgment from 2003.
The National Association of Securities Dealers found that Bales, another man and his company “engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorized trading and unsuitable investments.”
Records show Gary Liebschner, of Columbus, Ohio, filed the complaint in 2000, when Bales was a stockbroker.
WCPO-TV in Ohio quoted Liebschner’s wife as saying her husband became ill so they asked Bales to sell stock to pay medical bills, but never received the proceeds.
An arbitration panel found Bales, Michael Patterson and Michael Patterson Inc. individually and jointly liable for $637,000 in compensatory damages, $637,000 in punitive damages, $216,500 in attorneys’ fees and several thousand dollars in other fees.
Punitive damages were allowed because the panel found Bales’ conduct “fraudulent and malicious.”
Bales did not file a “statement of answer,” get an attorney or appear at an Ohio hearing, records show.
About a year and a half after the complaint was filed, Bales enlisted – just two months after 9/11.
His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and-run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, according to court records. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed.
In March 1998, Bales was given a $65 citation for possessing alcohol at Daytona Beach, Fla. He did not pay the fine nor did he defend himself in court. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it later expired.
If the case goes to court, the trial will be held in the U.S., said a legal expert with the U.S. military familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.
That expert said charges were still being decided and that the location for any trial had not yet been determined. If the suspect is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be flown to the U.S. to participate, he said.