Ex-Soldier Who Killed 16 Seeks New Trial in Civilian Court, Blames Malaria Drug

This U.S. Army photo, provided by the Tacoma, Wash., News-Tribune, shows Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in March, 2012. (U.S. Army/Tacoma News-Tribune via AP)
This U.S. Army photo, provided by the Tacoma, Wash., News-Tribune, shows Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in March, 2012. (U.S. Army/Tacoma News-Tribune via AP)

The former Army soldier who murdered 16 Afghan civilians, including seven children, is seeking a new trial in civilian court, resting his defense largely on rare side effects of the malaria drug mefloquine.

Robert Bales filed a petition June 24 in the U.S. District Court of Kansas asking that his military conviction and life sentence without parole be thrown out and that he receive a competency board and trial, or simply a new trial.

Bales attorney, John Maher of Chicago, said last week the request was reasonable because during Bales' court martial, his defense team failed to investigate the effect that mefloquine -- a malaria drug once taken by troops to prevent the mosquito-borne virus -- had on his mental state the night of the massacre.

"We believe, just looking at the law ... Bob Bales didn't get a fair trial," Maher told Military.com on Friday. "The Army gave him poison."

Early March 11, 2012, under the cover of darkness, Bales left his base, Camp Belambay, in Kandahar, and went to a nearby village, where he killed four people, including a child, and assaulted six others. He then returned to base for more ammunition and walked to another village, where he killed a dozen more, mainly women and children, in their beds.

It was Bales' first tour in Afghanistan, following three deployments to Iraq. According to court documents, he had been drinking that evening and taken sleeping pills and also was using anabolic steroids, known to cause mood swings.

During the trial he said he saw lights that he perceived to be insurgents sending signals to attack his unit.

Following Bales arrest, outside experts raised questions as to whether Bales had taken mefloquine, also known as Lariam, a malaria medication given once a week as a prophylactic to prevent the disease but which also can cause severe side effects in a small percentage of patients.

The medication carries a black box warning for side effects that include vestibular problems and neurological issues, including nightmares, anxiety, anger and psychosis in some patients.

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The prescription was not considered during the investigation nor introduced at his trial and Bales pleaded guilty on June 5, 2013, and was sentenced to life without parole in the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Maher introduced the mefloquine defense in Bales’ appeal to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in 2017 but justices rejected it as speculative. That decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals last year and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case.

The petition filed last week falls under a federal statute that allows prisoners to challenge the outcomes of their trials or courts martial. Maher said a new trial would allow Bales to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

"We are not saying Bob Bales is innocent. He killed 16, including women and children," Maher said, "but he deserves a fair trial."

Dr. Remington Nevin, a former Army infectious disease specialist who now heads The Quinism Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research and advocates for patients sickened by mefloquine and related drugs, said in a sworn statement he believes Bales experienced "adverse psychiatric effects as a direct result of his very likely exposure to mefloquine" during a deployment to Iraq in 2003.

Nevin argued that although the medication is not documented in Bales' medical records, it was commonplace for the Army not to record the weekly medication. Bales, in his opinion, was laboring under symptoms of psychosis, including visual hallucinations -- the lights -- and 'bizarre, persecutory delusions' before the murders.

"Given my opinion that Staff Sgt. Bales was very likely involuntary intoxicated from mefloquine, substantial issues are raised about his knowing entry into a plea of guilty without the benefit of expert medical evaluation," Nevin wrote.

Mayer has said if the civilian court system does not grant his client a new trial, he will seek executive clemency from President Donald Trump.

Last year, Retired Army Lt. Col. Jay Morse, who led the government's prosecution team in 2013, said during Bales' trial, no members of the defense team raised mefloquine as a factor in the massacre.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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