A U.S. Army sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians last year has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A six-member jury at a military base in (the western state of) Washington returned its sentence Friday against Sergeant Robert Bales after deliberating for less than two hours.
The 40-year-old Bales was on his fourth combat deployment when he carried out the middle-of-the-night attack in March 2012.
In what came to be known as the Kandahar Massacre, Bales walked by himself to two neighboring villages in Kandahar province and fired on local residents with a pistol and a rifle. Most of his victims were women and children, including 11 members of one family.
He pleaded guilty in June to the killings in a deal with military prosecutors to avoid the death penalty. The jury had been deliberating whether Bales should have the chance of being paroled at some point and decided against that possibility.
Nine Afghans were flown to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state for the sentencing hearing. Many of them said they wanted to see Bales receive the death penalty.
"The decision on the sentencing of this gentlemen has only satisfied us 5 percent of what we expect or what we wanted it, or what a sentence should be.''
Bales took the witness stand on Thursday and apologized. He called the killings an "act of cowardice." He told the judge presiding over the case that "there is not a good reason in the world for the horrible things I did."
Defense lawyers have said Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome from the pressures of four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he was dependent on alcohol and drugs.
Friends and former associates who appeared as character witnesses for Bales, who is a father or two, said they were stunned to learn of the charges.