The Latest: Soldier speaks about Afghan massacre

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Robert Bales, US Army Staff Sergeant who killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan, seen during 2011 training exercise at Fort Irwin, California, Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System photo. (AP Photo)

Robert Bales, US Army Staff Sergeant who killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan, seen during 2011 training exercise at Fort Irwin, California, Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System photo. (AP Photo)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the American soldier from Lake Tapps, Ohio, charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids on two villages last year, pleaded guilty Wednesday to avoid the death penalty. This is what AP reporters and photographers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle are learning about the events unfolding (in Pacific Time):

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VICTIMS BURNED, 11:06 a.m. — When asked about the burning of the victims, Bales said he remembers a kerosene lantern in the room and recalls a fire and having matches in his pocket when he returned to the base, but not setting the bodies on fire. The judge pressed him on whether he set the bodies on fire with the lantern. Bales replied, “It’s the only thing that makes sense, sir.”

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WHY? ‘NOT A GOOD REASON IN THIS WORLD,’ 11:01 a.m. — As for the motivation behind the horrific slayings, Bales told the judge: “Sir, as far as why: I’ve asked that question a million times since then. There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did.”

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‘HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY’RE DEAD?,’ 10:56 a.m. — The judge asked Bales of the victims: “How do you know they’re dead?” Bales answered that he has seen the Army’s investigation report, Afghan investigation report and heard testimony to that effect during a hearing last fall. “I formed the intent as I raised my weapon prior to shooting them, sir.” Judge: “Was it your intent to end the lives of the persons you were aiming your weapon at?” Bales: “Yes, sir.”

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SOLDIER SPEAKS, 10:43 a.m. — After a lengthy review of the charges, the judge said to Bales: “What I want you to do now is tell me in your own words why you believe you’re guilty of these offenses.” Bales reads from a statement in a clear and steady voice, describing his actions for each killing in the same terms: “I left the VSP (Village Stability Platform at Belambay) and went to the nearby village of Alkozai. While inside a compound in Alkozai, I observed a female I now know to be Na’ikmarga. I formed the intent to kill Na’ikmarga, and I did kill Na’ikmarga by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, sir.”

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VICTIMS NAMED, 10:24 a.m. — The judge read the names of two girls Bales wounded — Robina and Zardana — which evoked last fall’s hearing when those young victims testified in bright head coverings and sipped from juice boxes. The judge was reading the names of the victims referred to in each charge.

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NO QUESTIONS, 10:20 a.m. — Bales has had no questions for the judge about any of the premeditated or attempted murder charges.

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JUDGE BREAKS DOWN CHARGES, — 9:56 a.m. — For each murder charge, the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, asked Bales whether he understood the four elements: that the victim is dead; that the death resulted from Bales’ actions; that the killing was unlawful; and that the killing was premeditated.

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HEARING RESUMES, — 9:49 a.m. — After a brief recess, the hearing continued with the judge asking Bales about his guilty pleas in the slayings. Judge: “Is everything in the stipulation true?” Bales: “Yes, sir.” The judge asked if there is anything in the stipulation that Bales does not want to admit to as true. Bales: “No, sir.”

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JUDGE TO QUESTION SOLDIER, 9:23 a.m. — Bales signed a lengthy stipulation of facts about his actions the night of the killings. The judge says he’ll question Bales about the details he acknowledged in that document. The hearing then went to a brief recess.

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GUILTY, 9:14 a.m. — Bales has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty. He made the plea in a military courtroom to multiple counts of premeditated murder and other charges.

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JUDGE SPEAKS TO BALES, 9:09 a.m. — The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, explained Bales’ rights and asked if he understands them. Bales stood and answered: “Yes, sir, I do.” Judge told him he can remain seated unless otherwise instructed.

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HEARING BEGINS, 9:05 a.m. — The proceedings have started. Bales is sitting next to his attorneys, Emma Scanlan and John Henry Browne. Browne is a well-known Seattle-area lawyer whose clients have included serial killer Ted Bundy and the teenage thief known as the Barefoot Bandit. The 6-foot-6 Browne has a sometimes brash courtroom style.

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FAMILY SUPPORT, 8:58 a.m. — Prior to the hearing beginning, Bales was in the courtroom, speaking with his wife and touching her elbow. Karilyn Bales has supported her husband throughout the legal proceedings, saying he is a loving father to his two children.

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HUGE MEDIA PRESENCE, 8:50 a.m. — The number of media vehicles waiting for the Bales hearing was so large that a regular lane of traffic was blocked off near the JBLM gate to accommodate them before moving the first group to the security screening area. There, as with past hearings, vehicles had to have all doors open and were screened by a dog and a handler wearing a bullet proof vest. As media filed in to the work area, John Henry Browne and Lance Rosen, attorneys for Bales and his family, were seen talking in a separate parking lot. It looks like that for this hearing, media in the work area will have a four-camera split-screen view of the proceedings, in order to show different areas of the courtroom.

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