FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales remembers little about the night he is accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime shooting rampage, his lawyer says.
He has a sketchy memory of events from before and after the killings but recalls very little or nothing of the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages, attorney John Henry Browne said Monday after meeting his client for the first time.
Browne and other members of Bales’ defense team have said they plan additional meetings this week with the soldier, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth.
Meanwhile, more details have come to light about Bales’ troubles on the home front.
Records show he owes $1.5 million from an arbitration ruling nearly a decade ago that found him guilty of securities fraud.
The ruling stemmed from a complaint by a Columbus, Ohio, man that Bales defrauded him and his wife while working as their stockbroker in 2003.
Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shooting spree, 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.
Browne met with his client behind bars for the first time Monday to begin building a defense. He said Bales has “some memory of some things that happened” the night of the shootings.
“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.
Bales arrived at Fort Leavenworth last Friday and is being held in an isolated cell. He is “already being integrated into the normal pretrial confinement routine,” prison spokeswoman Rebecca Steed said.
The routine includes recreation, meals and cleaning the area where he is living. Steed said once his meetings with his attorneys are complete later in the week, Bales will resume the normal integration process.
Browne said he and Bales met for more than three hours at the military prison.
Browne said the soldier gave a powerfully moving account of what it is like to be on the ground in Afghanistan.
“You read about it. I read about it. But it’s totally different when you hear about it from somebody who’s been there,” Browne told the AP. “It’s just really emotional.”
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. The defense team includes a military defense lawyer, Maj. Thomas Hurley.
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: 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 still faces the $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.
After their investigation, military attorneys could draft charges and present them to a commander, who then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.
That commander then submits the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be of higher rank.
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