JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — A brother of the U.S. soldier who slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians last year began making the case Wednesday for why he should one day be eligible for parole, portraying him as a patriotic American and indulgent father who let his son put ranch dressing on chocolate chip pancakes.
"There's no better father that I've seen," William Bales said of his younger brother, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. "If you brought the kids in here today, they'd run right to him."
Sgt. Bales, 39, pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty, acknowledging that he killed 16 people, mostly women and children, during unsanctioned, solo, pre-dawn raids on two villages March 11, 2012. A jury is deciding whether he should be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, or without it.
The picture painted by the first defense witness, William Bales, 55, severely contradicted that portrayed by the soldier's admissions as well as by the testimony of nine Afghan villagers, including victims and their relatives, about the horror Bales wrought.
Defense attorneys hope the contrast will convince jurors that Bales simply snapped after four combat deployments and deserves leniency.
William Bales repeatedly referred to his sibling — once the captain of his high school football team and class president in Norwood, Ohio, where they grew up — as "my baby brother" and "Bobby."
He described how as a teenager his brother cared for a developmentally disabled neighborhood boy, assisting him with basic life functions. The boy's father also testified how helpful Bales was.
"I don't know too many 16-, 17-year-old boys who could do that," William Bales said.
He also described how the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed "good-time Bobby" and how he soon thereafter enlisted in the Army.
Prosecutors noted, however, that Bales was also facing a fraud lawsuit when he enlisted. An arbitrator eventually imposed a $1.5 million judgment against Bales and his former stockbroking company.
One of Bale's lawyers, John Henry Browne, said after court Wednesday that his client will speak to the jury at the end of the case, and he will offer an apology for his crimes.
On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, nine Afghan villagers who traveled about 7,000 miles to testify at the hearing in traditional garb spoke of their lives since the attacks.
Haji Mohammad Wazir lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife and six of his seven children. He told the six-member jury that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life. He was in another village with his youngest son, now 5-year-old Habib Shah, during the attack.
"If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be," said Wazir, who received $550,000 in condolence payments from the U.S. government, out of $980,000 paid in all. His son, now 5, "misses everyone. He hasn't forgotten any of them."
"I've gone through very hard times," he added. "If anybody speaks to me about the incident ... I feel the same, like it's happening right now."
Wazir and a cousin, Khamal Adin, didn't get to say everything they wanted to in court. Each asked for permission to speak after the prosecutors' questions were finished, but the judge said it wasn't allowed.
On Tuesday, a farmer who was shot in the neck cursed Bales before pleading with the prosecutor to ask him no more questions.
"This bastard stood right in front of me!" the farmer, Haji Mohammad Naim, testified, through an interpreter. "I wanted to ask him, 'What did I do? What have I done to you?' ... and he shot me!"