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US soldier on trial for Afghanistan murders

The US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians has gone on trial for the first time. Prosecutors said he was "lucid" during the attack and admitted to his crimes.

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales appeared in a military court Monday, attending a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to hold a full court martial over the worst US military crime in the Afghanistan War.

Wearing fatigues, the 39-year-old sat quietly in the courtroom at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just south of Tacoma, Washington.

His wife and lawyer have maintained that Bales has no memory of the attacks, with the former telling ABC news before the trial: "my husband did not do this."

But the prosecution believes otherwise, saying at the so-called Article 32 hearing that Bales returned to base after the attacks with his victims' blood on his rifle, belt, shirt and pants.

"He was lucid, he was coherent, he was responsive [during the attacks]," said prosecutor Joseph Morse at the hearing.

Details of the violence

According to Morse, the March 11 attacks began after Bales had been drinking with Sergeant Jason McLaughlin. He then visited the room of Sergeant Clayton Blackshear.

"He talked about having bad kids, an ugly wife - he basically didn't care if he made it back home to them," Blackshear testified.

Around midnight, Bales left the base in the Panjawayi district of Kandahar province and went to a nearby village. He entered two houses and shot four people dead, while injuring six more with gunshots to the face, neck, thigh and knees.

Bales then returned to the base.

McLaughlin testified that Bales came to his room at 2:00 am and admitted to the killings. McClaughlin added that he told him to "take care of his kids."

Bales is then alleged to have left the base a second time where he visited two homes and murdered 12 people. Those dead included women and children. He then put the bodies in the middle of the room and set them on fire.

Corporal David Godwin testified that he tried unsuccessfully to help Bales get rid of evidence after he was arrested. "It's bad," Bales told him. "It's bad. It's real bad."

Godwin was given immunity in return for his testimony.

16 counts of murder

Morse noted that 17 of the 22 victims had been women and children, most of whom had been shot in the head, calling Bales' actions "deliberate, methodical."

More witnesses are expected to testify next week via video link from Afghanistan. Bales faces 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder, seven of assault, two of drug use and one of drinking alcohol. He could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Bales, who is not expected to testify during the hearing, had initially been confined at a Kansas military prison in March. He was moved last month to Lewis-McHord, where his infantry regiment is based.

dr/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)