Sgt. Robert Bales Officially Charged for Afghan Massacre

Sgt. Robert Bales faces 17 counts of murder.

March 23, 2012, 9:32 AM

March 23, 2012 — -- Staff sergeant Robert Bales, the American soldier accused of slaughtering more than a dozen Afghan civilians, has been officially charged with 17 counts of murder among other charges, military officials said.

The 38-year-old stands accused of going out from his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the middle of the night Sunday and walking to nearby villages where he broke into homes and opened fire on the families inside. Afterwards, he allegedly set some of the bodies on fire. When it was over, four women and nine children were killed, officials said. In addition to the murder charges, Bales was charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault.

Just moments after the alleged attack, Bales called his wife from Afghanistan and told her "something terrible" had happened, the wife's lawyer told ABC News today. Bales had apparently surrendered to coalition forces and was able to speak with his wife for about three minutes before the phone call was cut off.

READ: Bales to Wife: 'Something Terrible' Happened

Military officials had previously reported that 16 civilians were killed in the Sunday attack, implying there was either an initial miscount of the dead or one of the several Afghan civilians who were wounded has died.

A high-powered civilian defense attorney for Bales, John Henry Browne, told ABC News Tuesday that Bales does not remember all of the night in question -- just the beginning and the end, but not the period during which the murders supposedly took place.

Browne said he doubts the military's version of events, said it's not supported by eyewitnesses or forensic evidence and said he had not seen any documents that suggest Bales confessed to the crime, contrary to earlier reports.

Since his arrest, ABC News has learned Bales had been accused of bilking more than $1 million from an elderly couple and was under scrutiny in a financial probe when he joined the military in 2001.

READ: Afghan Murder Suspect 'Took My Life Savings,' Says Retiree

Overnight, The Associated Press reported that Bales had allegedly previously been involved in a 2008 incident in which a woman claimed Bales made inappropriate advances on her and then assaulted her boyfriend.

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Browne has said Bales was not drunk the night of the alleged attack in Afghanistan, though military officials said alcohol was found close to his quarters.

Bales, who has a home in Washington State where his wife and children live, is now being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and though charges in his case will be announced by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say his military court proceedings will be held in the United States.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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