The American soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians during night raids on two villages last year has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Staff Sargent Robert Bales entered the plea in a military courtroom to multiple counts of premeditated murder and other charges.
A military judge will question the soldier about what happened before deciding whether to accept the plea.
Bales was charged over the March 2012 attacks on two villages near the remote base in southern Afghanistan where he was posted. Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were burned.
Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, has said he expects his client to admit to “very specific facts” about the killings at the hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.
Bales, 39, pleaded not guilty to one charge, impeding an investigation.
Relatives of the victims have said they are irate at the notion that Bales will escape execution for one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war.
Bales was serving his fourth combat deployment when the rampage occurred and had an otherwise good if undistinguished military record in a decade-long career.
The Ohio native suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, his lawyers say, and he had been drinking contraband alcohol and snorting Valium – both provided by other soldiers – on the night of the killings.
The case raised questions about the toll multiple deployments were taking on American troops. For that reason, many legal experts believed it was unlikely he would receive the death penalty, as Army prosecutors were seeking.
The military justice system has not executed anyone since 1961, but five men currently face death sentences.