(NEW YORK) — On the eve of the most important court hearing U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will ever attend, the wife of the man accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers maintains her husband’s innocence.
“My husband did not do this. Did not do this,” said Kari Bales in an exclusive interview with ABC News. “I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that my husband is not involved.”
Kari Bales said it is simply “incomprehensible” to her that her husband and best friend, “Bob,” faces 16 charges of premeditated murder.
Staff Sgt. Bales is accused of sneaking out of his combat outpost and single-handedly conducting a cold-blooded massacre of men, women and children in two remote villages outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan on the night of March 11, nearly 8 months ago.
“It doesn’t seem possible. Especially that there were women and children. My heart goes out to those families that lost loved ones, parents and grandparents. I am a mom; I can’t imagine losing my child, especially to something like that.”
The government’s “Article 32 investigation” starts Monday: The proceeding is essentially a pre-trial hearing, in which military investigators lay out the case against Bales to determine if there is enough evidence for a court-martial to go forward. It will be conducted both from a tiny courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. and via a satellite link from the villages where the killings took place. The Afghan witnesses who will testify — women and children survivors of the attacks — refuse to leave their homes.
Kari Bales said she learned of the attack within hours from military officials:
“It must have been a mistake, is how I initially took it. It certainly wasn’t, it wasn’t my husband. That wasn’t something, when I learned more about the details of how, what came out of it and all of that. It was disbelief. It could not have been my husband. It was just incomprehensible to me. I know my husband. I know him very well, and especially the talk about the women and the children. I knew that it wasn’t my husband. So it was just incomprehensible to me.”
A midnight call that night from her husband, she says, confirms to her that even Robert Bales does not know what really happened.
“He was like, ‘What? What you talking about?’ He had, he knew that something was going on, but did not know the extent of what was going on, and I was actually the one that had told him how many people had died, and that included women and children, and he was blown away. He did not know the details as they had been portrayed in the press.”
Military investigators say they have two surveillance videos from the remote combat outpost that show Sgt. Bales returning to the base, putting down his weapon and surrendering. But Kari says she believes the truth has yet to come out.
“I don’t think we have even begun to have the truth.”
Meantime, Kari struggles to explain to the couples’ 2-1/2-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter why their daddy sits in a jail cell just a little over a mile away on the same base where the young family is now sequestered.
“It’s been difficult,” she said. “I question myself, what is the right thing to say, what is the right thing to explain to them, what can they understand? And for me, I don’t even really understand what is happening, so how can I possibly expect my kids to understand, right?”
Kari said she takes solace — even joy — that she and the kids can visit Robert during 2-hour visiting blocks every Saturday and Sunday. Even though their conversations are monitored, at least, she says, they can be a family again.
“We are together, we’re as a family. We’re regular; we can look forward to it. We know when we are going to see him again. It’s somewhat normal.”
“We don’t get a whole lot of Bob and Kari talk, when we, when we go and visit him. The kids are very involved with Daddy. They’re sitting in his lap, they’re reading books. We talk about my job. We talk about your typical family things.
“So I mean, of course, there is worry and there is a lot going on for me. I have a full-time job, I have two kids, and you know all of the other things. Fundraising comes up, and um, there is, there is a lot going on. So, but it’s just, it is just usually him and the kids, and I get to watch it; and we’ll try to talk to each other a little bit, but the kids are just, they need their dad, they need their dad. And they get that now on a regular basis, so that is really, it is heartwarming for me.”
Their immediate concern: Covering what could ultimately be up to a million dollars in legal fees. Kari has set up a website, helpsgtbales.com, to solicit donations for the SSG Bales Legal Defense Fund.
“Really the reason we need a defense fund is to get a fair trial out of this. I really feel Bob gave his best for his country. Now it is time for America to give their best to him.”
Kari said the support of family and friends, and focusing on her kids, helps keep her strong. She doesn’t want to think much about the possibility that Robert may never come home.
“I think about it very fleetingly. I have hopes that that does not happen. I haven’t thought about what it would look like if it did. I don’t feel like I have to, because I really do feel like there will be a fair trial, and the right things will come out and it will be, it won’t be that as an end result.”
But the possibility that Robert could face the death penalty if he’s convicted on the premeditated murder charges — that’s harder for her to ignore.
“I have come to terms with that, and that I have put away. You know, I thought about it and I put it away until I actually have to deal with it. So you, I have learned to compartmentalize a lot of these issues, too. Yes, I’ve thought about it and yes, that scares me.”
As Staff Sgt. Bales faces what’s expected to be a two-week hearing that will determine the course of the rest of his life, his wife Kari said she will be in the front row to remind him of her unwavering support and love.
“How much he is loved, how much he is admired, how proud of him I am, how proud his kids are of him, and his family, and how much his friends care about him. And he’s given, he’s given so much, and he’s worked so hard, that really he deserves a fair trial; he deserves a lot for what he has given and what he has sacrificed.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio