Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. (Spc. Ryan Hallock / Army via the AP)
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SEATTLE — The Army staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers during nighttime raids last year is due to be arraigned Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and his lawyer said the judge has asked prosecution and defense teams to be ready to discuss key issues in the case.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales could face the death penalty if convicted in the massacre early on March 11. He faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.
Prosecutors say Bales left his remote base, attacked one village and then returned to the base before slipping away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.
Bales, an Ohio native who later moved to Washington state, is being detained at Lewis-McChord. His civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, said Tuesday that Bales will plead not guilty at the arraignment.
Browne also said the judge has told attorneys on both sides to be ready to argue about whether the defense will be allowed to present any sort of mental-health defense, given that Bales has refused to participate in a "sanity board," an Army review aimed at determining his mental state.
Browne had objected to the conditions for the sanity board, saying the Army would not let Bales have an attorney present and would not record the examination.
"The judge is trying to get us to deal with critical motions at the arraignment," Browne said. "We need to slow this railroad down."
The judge also asked prosecution and defense teams to present their witness lists on Thursday, Browne said.