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Death Penalty Possible In Court Martial Of Army Sgt. Accused Of Afghan Killings

The Army staff sergeant accused in the March 11 murders of 16 Afghan civilians and shooting of six others could be given the death penalty if he's convicted of all the charges officially filed against him this week, a General Court-Martial Convening Authority announced Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, prosecutors say, attacked two villages near his base in southern Afghanistan. Among the 16 people killed, nine were children.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, the convening authority announced that Bales faces:

-- "Sixteen specifications of murder."

-- "Six specifications of attempted murder."

-- "Seven specifications of assault."

-- "Two specifications of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline."

-- "Two specifications of wrongful use of a controlled substance."

-- "One specification of violation of a lawful order."

It added that:

"If convicted of all charges (and specifications), the maximum punishment is death. For capital punishment to be imposed, the court-martial members must unanimously find: the service member is guilty of the eligible crime; at least one aggravating factor exists; and that the aggravating factor must substantially outweigh any extenuating or mitigating circumstances found by the court-martial members."

No date has been set for Bales' court martial.

The last time the U.S. military executed one of its personnel was in 1961, when Pvt. John Bennett, an African-American, "was hanged for raping a white girl in Austria," as the Los Angeles Times writes.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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