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Army sergeant pleads guilty in Afghan killings

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

By Matt Smith, CNN

(CNN) — A military judge has accepted the guilty plea of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in 2012, a move that will spare Bales a death sentence, a military spokesman said Wednesday.

Bales now faces life in prison, but whether he will have a chance at parole will be determined in an August sentencing hearing, Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said.

In a hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Wednesday, Bales admitted to slipping away from his outpost in southern Afghanistan and going on a house-to-house rampage in two villages. The killings strained already tense ties between American troops and their Afghan allies and intensified a debate about whether to speed up the planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

In addition to 16 premeditated murder counts, he pleaded guilty to six counts of attempted murder, seven counts of assault, and the use of illicit steroids and alcohol. He pleaded not guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice, however.

Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, said last week that Bales intended to plead guilty to the killings in exchange for elimination of the death penalty as a possible punishment.

Browne said last week that Special Operations troops assigned to the Kandahar outpost “pumped” his client with the substances, and that he will raise the issue in a penalty phase to determine whether Bales will have a chance at parole.

Bales is a member of the Army’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, an element of the 2nd Infantry Division. Browne has previously said the service made a mistake in assigning Bales to another combat tour despite evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury suffered during a combat tour in Iraq.

CNN’s Barbara Starr and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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