Army seeks to bar mental health defense by Bales
SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Army wants to bar Staff Sgt. Robert Bales from using any sort of mental health defense to charges that he slaughtered 16 Afghan villagers last year because he has refused to take part in an official review of his sanity, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is due to appear Thursday morning in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, where his lawyers say he will plead not guilty. Bales is accused of leaving a remote base in southern Afghanistan early on March 11, massacring adults and children in two villages, and burning some of the bodies — attacks which drew such outrage that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in the country.
In court documents provided to The Associated Press by John Henry Browne, one of Bales’ lawyers, military prosecutors argue that Bales should not be allowed to have any expert witnesses testify about what effect his mental health might have had on his guilt. Nor do they want any expert to testify during the penalty phase of the trial, should it get that far, as to whether any history of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder should spare him the death penalty.
The reason: His lawyers have refused to allow him to participate in a “sanity board” review.
Such reviews are conducted by neutral doctors tasked with discerning a defendant’s mental state at the time of the crime and whether he’s competent to stand trial. Bales, who grew up in Norwood, Ohio, was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone, and his mental health has been expected to be a key part of the case.
“An accused simply cannot be allowed to claim a lack of mental responsibility through the introduction of expert testimony from his own doctors, while at the same time leaving the government with no ability to overcome its burden of proof because its doctors have been precluded from conducting any examination of the very matters in dispute,” Maj. Robert Stelle wrote in a motion Jan. 3.
Alternatively, Stelle wrote, the judge should order Bales to immediately undergo the sanity review.
Bales’ attorneys have said he may have suffered from a traumatic brain injury, possibly when he lost consciousness when an improvised bomb went off during one of his tours in Iraq. They have thus far refused to let him take part in the sanity board because the Army would not let him have a lawyer present for the examination, would not record the examination and would not appoint a neuropsychologist expert in traumatic brain injuries to the board.
However, in a reply to the government’s motion, one of Bales’ lawyers, Emma Scanlan, wrote Tuesday that Bales will participate — as long as only certain information about the results are forwarded to prosecutors. Prosecutors should promptly receive findings about his current competence, but nothing about his mental state at the time of the attack, she wrote.
That information should not be turned over to the government until Bales’ defense team actually gives notice of their intent to use a mental-health defense or to have an expert testify, Scanlan said.