OLYMPIA, Wash. — The U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians suffered a traumatic incident during his second tour in Iraq that triggered "tremendous depression," his lawyer said Wednesday.
Lawyer John Henry Browne said he could not discuss the details of the matter because it remains classified. But he expects the issue to become a focal point in the case against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
"It caused him tremendous depression and anxiety," Mr. Browne said.
The lawyer previously said Sgt. Bales experienced other major dangers in his deployments, including a serious foot injury and head trauma. In addition, a fellow soldier's leg had been blown off days before the Afghanistan massacre, he said.
Sgt. Bales was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes. He is being held at a U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
A defense team is now in Afghanistan to collect evidence and interview other U.S. soldiers who knew Sgt. Bales.
"Everyone they've spoken to in the military has nothing but amazingly positive things to say about him," said Mr. Browne, who is not part of the team in Afghanistan.
Due to security concerns, Mr. Browne doesn't think the team will visit the villages where the killings occurred. Mr. Browne questioned the U.S. government's case against his client, noting there is no preserved crime scene to assess.
"It's going to be a difficult case for the prosecution to prove," Mr. Browne said. "There's no 'CSI' information. There's no DNA that I know of. There's no ballistics that I know of."
Sgt. Bales has indicated that he had no recollection of prescription drugs he may have been taking before the shooting - something the attorney took as an indicator of larger memory problems. The lawyer also said his client has a sketchy memory of the night of the shootings.
U.S. military officials said Sgt. Bales was drinking on a southern Afghanistan base on March 11 before going to two villages at night, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine were children.
Sgt. Bales has had past incidents involving alcohol and violence. In 2002, he was arrested for a drunken assault of a security guard at a Tacoma, Wash., casino. In 2008, a couple accused an intoxicated Sgt. Bales of grabbing a woman's hand and thrusting it toward his crotch before kicking and punching the woman's boyfriend.