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Military death penalty cases are rare

U.S. Disciplinary Barracks

The Army has announced it will seek the death penalty against Joint Base Lewis McChord soldier Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Currently, there are 8 men awaiting execution on military death row in Leavenworth, Kansas. Some have been there for decades.

Washington District Court Judge Jack Nevin, of Tacoma, is a retired Brigadier General who was Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He also teaches a class on military law at Seattle University Law School.

KPLU Law and Justice Reporter Paula Wissel interviewed Nevin about the differences between  military and civilian death penalty cases.

(Click on listen button above to hear the radio interview.)

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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  • The Army will decide whether the evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales supports a full court martial and whether the death penalty is appropriate.
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    The top forces commander at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He’s the 39-year old soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year. Bales is accused of conducting two predawn raids on villages in southern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly women and children and the Army says some of the bodies were burned. Prosecutors had asked for a death penalty trial and top commanders at Lewis-McChord agreed. Emma Scanlan is one of Bales’ civilian defense attorneys. She calls the Army’s decision disappointing. “This is just another way for them to ignore the responsibility of a failed mental health system," Scanlan says. "It’s a way for them to ignore the responsibility of the Special Forces for giving Sgt. Bales steroids and alcohol.” At the time of the killings, Bales – an infantry soldier - was assigned to a Special Forces outpost. He was on his fourth combat deployment. Bales is married father of two. In a statement, his wife says Bales is entitled to a fair trial. No court-martial date has been set.