For the past seven months, Karilyn Bales has had little to no discussion with her husband about the killing spree he's accused of while on his fourth deployment overseas.
Instead, they use weekend visits at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for family time.
“The kids get to sit in his lap and we get to hug and kiss him on the cheek,” Kari says. “To me, having my kids’ lives being normal is the most important.”
But life has been anything but normal after her husband, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, became the prime suspect in the systematic killing of 16 innocent Afghan civilians.
The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier and former Lake Tapps resident sits in confinement on base awaiting the first public hearing on the killings set to begin Monday.
The alleged nighttime rampage has raised concerns about the well being of our military during America’s longest war.
“It all seems incomprehensible to me. This is not something he would do, not the Bob I know,” says Kari.
Ms. Bales is pleading for a fair and unprejudiced trial against her husband and father of two children ages 3 and 5. The case could eventually end with a death penalty court martial.
“At this point I haven’t had time to worry about that,” she says when asked about her husband possibly being put to death. “I know that’s a possibility. If and when that happens then that’s the time I will worry about it. It’s in God’s hands.”
Since March 11, Ms. Bales has had to balance the security risk of becoming a public figure, versus her commitment to help her husband. She twice visited Robert while he was confined at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and she has also been afforded visits at JBLM where she and the kids now live on base.
She says Bob joined the military shortly after 9/11 to do his part and protect his country. He served with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on all three of its tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty in a war zone, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury. The family had thought he was done fighting.
"He shielded me from a lot of what he went through. He's a very tough guy,” Karilyn says.
The Article 32 hearing at JBLM will be the first opportunity for Ms. Bales and her family and friends to learn what may have happened on the night of the killings.
Military prosecutors claim the Stryker soldier twice snuck out of his combat post to kill nine children and seven adults in two separate villages in Kandahar’s Panjwai District.
The Article 32 hearing is much like a pretrial hearing in civilian court. The Army will present all of its evidence and Bales defense attorneys can cross examine witnesses and present their own evidence. Veteran military attorneys say an Article 32 hearing is an excellent opportunity for the defense because it can force prosecutors to tip their hand as to what evidence they will use at trial.
“It also lets the lawyer know what strategies the Army may take,” says Jeffrey Lustick, a former military prosecutor who has presided over an Article 32 hearing as an investigating officer.
The investigating officer is the one who makes a recommendation as to whether a case should move to a Court Martial where Bales could face death.
“The Army has a huge interest in this case,” Lustick says. “This type of behavior, a soldier snapping because of deployment, is not a good public affairs environment for the Army. But these actions also are not normal.”
Bales' case is unprecedented in many ways. It will play out under the microscope of international media and the military. The first hearing is expected to last two weeks and will include Afghan civilians testifying from a military base. To accommodate for the time difference, the second week of the hearing will take place at overnight where it will be daytime in Afghanistan.
Bales lead defense attorney, John Henry Browne, plans to travel to Kandahar to cross examine witnesses. Browne will not have the ability to call his own witnesses during the Article 32 hearing but will be able to view highly useful evidence for his case during a potential Court Martial.
Karilyn doesn’t want to the public to forget the victims in this case either.
“My heart aches for them,” she says. “Being a mom I can’t imagine losing a child in such a way.”
She plans to attend every day of the hearing to support her husband, but she knows it won’t be easy.
“We were truly looking forward to having our lives together after this last deployment. So we will have our lives together after this.”