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“You read about it, I read about it, but it’s totally different when you hear about it from somebody who’s been there,” Mr. Browne told the AP. “It’s just really emotional.”

Mr. Browne, a Seattle lawyer who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit,” has said he has handled three or four military cases. The defense team includes a military defense lawyer, Maj. Thomas Hurley.

Military officials have said that Sgt. Bales, after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, crept away to two villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the dead were children, and 11 belonged to one family.

Sgt. Bales‘ wife, Karilyn, offered her condolences to the victims’ families and said Monday she wants to know what happened. She said that her family and her in-laws are profoundly sad and that what they’ve read and seen in news reports is “completely out of character of the man I know and admire.”

Court records and interviews show Sgt. Bales had commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted in the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He also faced a number of problems in recent years: A Florida investment job went sour, his Seattle-area home was condemned as he struggled to make payments on another, and he failed to get a recent promotion. He also still faces the $1.5 million securities fraud judgment from 2003.

In 2000 to 2001, Sgt. Bales briefly collaborated in business with former NFL player Marc Edwards, according to a statement Mr. Edwards released Tuesday. They played high school football together in the early 1990s in a Cincinnati suburb, and Mr. Edwards went on to play went on to play for Notre Dame and several NFL teams, including the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Mr. Edwards called Sgt. Bales “one of my oldest and best friends.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Edwards said the business failed but it didn’t affect their friendship.

“In the days we played football together, he personified sportsmanship and the highest degree of unselfish team values. My relationship with Bob continued long after we left the playing field — and I viewed him as a person with enormous integrity, courage and loyalty,” said Mr. Edwards, who now lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

The National Association of Securities Dealers found that Sgt. Bales, another man and his company “engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorized trading and unsuitable investments.”

Records show that Gary Liebschner of Columbus, Ohio, filed the complaint in 2000, when Sgt. Bales was a stockbroker.

WCPO-TV in Cincinnati quoted Mr. Liebschner’s wife as saying her husband became ill so they asked Sgt. Bales to sell stock to pay medical bills but never received the proceeds.

An arbitration panel found SGt. Bales, Michael Patterson and Michael Patterson Inc. individually and jointly liable for $637,000 in compensatory damages, $637,000 in punitive damages, $216,500 in attorneys’ fees and several thousand dollars in other fees.

Punitive damages were allowed because the panel found Sgt. Bales‘ conduct “fraudulent and malicious.”

SGt. Bales did not file a “statement of answer,” get an attorney or appear at an Ohio hearing, records show.

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