1 p.m. update: Before he went to Afghanistan and slaughtered 16 civilians, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was a loving father of two and a considerate man who cared for a developmentally disabled neighbor throughout his youth, his brother and a close friend told jurors Wednesday.
“There’s no better father I’ve seen,” his brother, William Bales, 55, said. “If you brought the kids in here today, they would run right to him.”
Testimony from William Bales and lifelong friend Robert Durham attempted to paint a softer picture of Bales, 39, on the second day of a trial that will determine whether the admitted murderer will ever get a chance for parole from his life sentence.
Their remarks followed a dozen prosecution witnesses who detailed the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier’s killing spree in two villages outside a Special Forces outpost in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province on March 11, 2012.
On the eve of that deployment, William Bales said he visited his Robert Bales for an NFL game. He was impressed that his brother woke up early to make his son and daughter chocolate chip pancakes and let his boy have ranch dressing with the breakfast.
To William Bales, it showed that Robert Bales doted on his family.
They grew up in Ohio in a family with five brothers. Robert Bales was a social young man, participating in student government and playing football. He was known as “Good Time Bobby” until he joined the Army in 2001 and matured as an adult.
“I know that when the Twin Towers came down, that had an effect,” William Bales said, suggesting that the terrorist attacks motivated his youngest brother to join the military.
Robert Durham told even more compelling stories. Durham’s son, Wade, is developmentally disabled and cannot care for any of his basic needs.
Growing up, Robert Bales would take Wade to camp and make sure Wade could participate in activities, Durham said. Robert Bales also fed Wad, and cleaned up after him when he soiled himself, Durham said.
That help was important to Durham, he testfied, because he was a working, single father.
“Bobby really helped,” Durham said. “I needed someone there to personally help me.”
Defense testimony from both men stands in contrast with the testimony of Afghan men and boys who have recounted over the past days how Bales indiscriminately murdered children in their own homes.
Prosecutor Lt. Col. Robert Stelle teased out that contrast with his last questions to Durham.
“Would you agree that a parent’s love for their child is one of the strongest things in the world?” Stelle asked, identifying himself as the father of a disabled child.
“Absolutely,” Durham replied.
“If something bad happens to your child, that’s a pretty awful thing, right?” Stelle asked.
“I can’t imagine. I don’t know how you would handle it,” Durham said.
Bales’ hearing has ended for the day. It is expected to resume Thursdaywith more defense witnesses.
11:30 a.m. UPDATE: The Army issued about $980,000 in condolence payments to Afghan families who lost relatives to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre in Kandahar province last year, a former infantry brigade commander said in court Wednesday morning.
That sum is significantly higher than had been reported previously in news media accounts since the March 11, 2012, killings. Initially, news reports suggested the Army about $50,000 in condolences for each fatal casualty and a lesser amount for nonfatal wounds.
Col. Todd Wood, formerly the top officer in the part of Kandahar province where Bales killed 16 civilians and wounded six others, said the Army issued the payments during a two-day “cooling off” period that followed the slaughter.
At the time, Wood led the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. It was in the final weeks of its yearlong mission in southern Afghanistan when Bales twice snuck out of his combat outpost to murder civilians in separate villages.
Wood spoke at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Bales’ sentencing trial. He said the killings “strained” relationships between the American military and its Afghan partners, as well as damaging the goodwill of local civilians.
"It'll be generations before we can gain some of that trust back,” he said.
Wood was the prosecution’s final witness. Bales’ defense attorneys have begun calling witnesses, starting with the soldier’s brother, William.
An Afghan man who nearly lost his entire family to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre in Kandahar province last year struggled today in court to find the words that could do justice to his grief.
Haji Mohammed Wazir lost his mother, wife, six children and brother. He and his son, Habib Shah, missed the slaughter because they were out of town.
“If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastating it would be,” Wazir said in court at Bales’ sentencing trial. “I lost my entire family.”
All together, Bales killed 11 of Wazir’s relatives in the early hours of March 11, 2012 in what was the soldier’s second solitary foray outside of his combat outpost.
The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier reportedly murdered Wazir’s youngest child, a 2-year-old girl, by stomping on her head. He gathered the bodies in a pile and lit them on fire before he started walking back to his NATO base.
Bales, 39, in June pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians and wounding six more. He’s in court this week trying to persuade a six-member jury that he his mandatory minimum life sentence should give him an opportunity for parole one day.
His defense team has not yet begun presenting its arguments.
Wazir was the ninth and final Afghan villager to testify this week. He gave understated testimony and did not look directly at Bales. Wazir appeared to steal glances at the soldier out of the sides of eyes as he answered questions from prosecutor Lt. Col. Rob Stelle.
Wazir has spoken to news media outlets several times since the slaughter. He says he relives the pain of losing his family any time someone asks about it.
“I feel like it’s that day again,” he said through a translator. “I feel like it’s happening right now. My life is never going to be the same again.”
His remaining son, Habib Shah, now 5, likewise continues to struggle with the loss.
“He misses everyone. He has not forgotten anyone,” Wazir said.
Wazir’s cousin, Khamal Adin, also testified. Adin was the first member of the family to arrive at the scene of the killings in the village of Najiban.
He traveled from the city of Kandahar to the family household and found a horrific site: Shatarana, Wazir’s mother, was lying in a doorway with her brains on the ground.
He noticed smoke coming from a room and followed it to find a pile of smoldering bodies. He saw 2-year-old Nabia with a crushed skull, he said.
“What I did notice was a footprint,” Adin said. “A shoe print on her face, in such a way that her teeth were crushed on her tongue.”
Adin has noticed changes in his cousin, Wazir. He loses himself in prayer, and loses track of time.
On one day in the religious celebration known as Eid, Wazir prayed in the morning. He stayed through the day, missing subsequent prayers with his family. Adin found him sobbing in a cloth.
“He lost track of time. He said, ‘I am here to pray.’ We said, ‘You missed prayers.'”
Both Afghans said they had more they wanted to tell jurors about Bales, but they were constrained to only answering questions from attorneys. Army judge Col. Jeffery Nance would not allow them to run on out of concerns that they might improperly influence the jury.
“In my heart, there are things I want to speak about,” Wazir said. He could not express them today.