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There have been previous suggestions that Bales could have returned to base after the first set of shootings, but the American officials who spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday provided the first official disclosure that U.S. investigators have come to this conclusion.
Members of the Afghan delegation investigating the killings said one Afghan guard working from midnight to 2 a.m. on March 11 saw a U.S. soldier return to the base around 1:30 a.m. Another Afghan soldier who replaced the first and worked until 4 a.m. said he saw a U.S. soldier leave the base at 2:30 a.m. It's unknown whether the two Afghan guards saw the same U.S. soldier.
U.S. officials have said Bales left the base the first time armed with his 9 mm pistol and M-4 rifle, which was outfitted with a grenade launcher.
Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said Friday that he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that his client's mental state will become an important issue. Browne has said Bales suffered from the stress of serving four combat tours.
The decision to charge Bales with premeditated murder suggests that prosecutors believe they have sufficient evidence that he consciously conceived the killings.
The maximum punishment for a premeditated murder conviction is death. The mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment with the chance of parole.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.
Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robertburnsAP.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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