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Suspect in Afghan massacre has memory loss, lawyer says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:20 PM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was not drunk, his lawyer tells CBS
  • The network reports Bales met with his lawyers for more than seven hours
  • "He's in shock," attorney John Henry Browne says about his client
  • Bales stands accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians

Editor's note: We've compiled some of the reader response to this story, including text and videos, into a regular feature called Overheard on CNN.com.

(CNN) -- An Army soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians was not drunk at the time, but doesn't remember what happened and is in shock, his attorney told CBS News on Monday.

The network reported Staff Sgt. Robert Bales met with three of his lawyers, including lead attorney John Henry Browne, for more than seven hours.

"He has an early memory of that evening, and he has a later memory of that evening, but he doesn't have a memory of in between," Browne said about the night of the shooting spree.

Contrary to some reports, Bales was not intoxicated, the attorney told CBS.

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"He's in shock. He's fixated on the troops left on the ground, and what they're accusing him of, and how that might have negative ramifications on his friends and compatriots," Browne said.

The attorney said off camera that he will not pursue an insanity defense, but one of diminished capacity, CBS reported.

When asked whether his client had a message for his wife and children, Browne responded: "He loves them dearly, and he's very anxious to talk to them."

Rebecca Steed, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the suspect is being held, confirmed the meeting between Browne and Bales earlier in the day but declined to provide details.

Repeated calls to the attorney after the Monday meeting were not returned.

Bales stands accused in the shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, allegations that have strained already tense U.S.-Afghan relations and intensified a debate about whether to pull American troops ahead of their planned 2014 withdrawal.

Karilyn Bales, the suspect's wife, released a statement Monday calling the rampage a "terrible and heartbreaking tragedy" and asking for some privacy.

"Our family has little information beyond what we read and see in the media. What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire. Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask," she said. "Please allow us some peace and time as we try to make sense of something that makes no sense at all."

After the March 11 shootings in two neighboring villages just outside a U.S. outpost in the Panjwai district, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded troops withdraw from villages and return to their bases. He said relations between the two countries were "at the end of their rope."

Afghans are demanding that the suspect be returned to Afghanistan to face trial, even as villagers and lawmakers question the U.S. military's account of what happened.

Questions abound a week after slayings of Afghan civilians

U.S. officials have alleged Bales left his outpost and single-handedly carried out the killings in the villages that left nine children, three women and four men dead.

One villager, Ali Ahmed, told CNN multiple attackers had come into a home before dawn, asked his uncle where the Taliban were and shot him dead. But another villager, a boy, claimed it was just one person.

Taliban demands Afghan trial for alleged shooter

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has promised Karzai a full investigation and said the United States will bring the shooter to justice.

The trial will be held in the United States, though the location has not been decided, a U.S. Forces Afghanistan legal expert told reporters Sunday. "We will develop charges hopefully within the next week," said the expert, who would not speculate on what they might be.

Discussions are under way for the United States to compensate relatives of the victims, the expert added.

The government of Afghanistan will not be present in the court, the expert said in response to a question, but some Afghans may be taken to the United States for Bales' trial.

"If he is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be brought over," the expert said. "But it's very important for me to emphasize that we are very early in this process and we want to make sure that we do not make any speculations, which could undermine the United States' ability to bring justice here."

Defense lawyer in Afghanistan massacre known for hard-core cases

Accounts from the military, Bales' family, friends and neighbors paint a portrait of a man who bore scars from wounds he received during three previous combat tours to Iraq but remained passionately committed to serving his country, and deployed to Afghanistan in January.

Bales suffered a traumatic brain injury during a roadside bomb explosion and lost part of his foot in separate tours in Iraq, his attorney has said.

In between deployments, he settled down with his wife and their two young children near Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.

In 2008, he was cited for a one-car rollover crash along a highway near his Lake Tapps home, according to police reports. Bales fled the scene of the crash and was located by authorities. Later, Bales told police he had fallen asleep while he was driving, according to a Sumner Police Department report.

Mark Bennett, a resident, came by the scene that day with his daughter and saw Bales and his banged-up Mustang.

Bales was wearing fatigues and was walking away from the car and into the woods.

"The whole right corner was removed the tire was gone," Bennett said. "He had blood on his face. My daughter said she smelled alcohol on his breath."

Ammunition could be seen on the ground around the car, he said, saying it looked as if a box in the car had come open during the rollover.

"I was concerned for his safety and wondering why he was hiding in the woods," Bennett said.

Family friends who knew Bales growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, Ohio, couldn't reconcile the allegations against the man they described as "quiet" and "very nice."

But the accounts also show a man facing enormous financial pressure, being forced to put his Lake Tapps home on the market last week while another property was foreclosed.

CNN's Sara Sidner in Kabul, Afghanistan, Paul Vercammen in Auburn, Washington, and Bill Kirkos contributed to this report.

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