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Staff Sgt. Bales defers plea to capital charges in slaughter of 16 Afghan villagers

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FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011, file photo, Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The U.S. Army says Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers during nighttime raids last year, will be arraigned Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales could face the death penalty if convicted in the March 11 massacre. He faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.(AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock, File) (The Associated Press)

The U.S. soldier accused of carrying out the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids on two villages last year has deferred entering a plea to charges that could bring the death penalty.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales appeared in a courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Thursday morning for his arraignment on 16 counts of premeditated murder and other charges.

Defense lawyer John Henry Browne told The Associated Press earlier this week that Bales would plead not guilty, but another attorney, Emma Scanlan, told the judge that Bales would defer entering a plea.

Prosecutors say Bales had been drinking early last March 11 before slipping away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan to attack the base. His attorneys say he was on his fourth deployment and may have been suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

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