A U.S. military judge has accepted the guilty plea of Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales for the premeditated murders of 16 unarmed Afghan civilians last year, including many women and children.
Approval of the deal means Bales no longer faces the threat of being sentenced to death over the March 11, 2012 massacre in southern Kandahar Province.
A jury is scheduled to decide on August 19 whether Bales will be sentenced to the maximum penalty he now faces: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bales, 39, a veteran of multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, on June 5 admitted carrying out the murders and burning the bodies of most of the victims.
He told the court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that there was "not a good reason in this world" for why he committed the killings.
Some of the family members of the victims of the massacre, as well as many ordinary Afghans, have demanded that Bales be put to death over the slaughter.
Bales pleaded guilty to all charges against him, including 16 charges of premeditated murder, six charges of attempted murder, and seven charges of assault.
Twenty-two people were killed or injured. Seventeen of the victims were women or children, and almost all were shot in the head.
Bales did not apologize during the hearing, but his lawyers have said he is remorseful over the bloodshed.
Bales described to Military Judge Colonel Jeffery Nance how he left his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar and carried out the killings inside family compounds in the settlements of Alkozai and Najiban.
Bales said he used an M4 rifle, equipped with a grenade launcher, and a 9 millimeter pistol to intentionally kill the villagers.
Asked by the judge if he had acted out of self-defense or under orders, or whether he had any legal justification to kill the villagers, Bales replied: "No, sir."
Bales admitted to regularly taking steroids to improve his physical shape. He said the drugs "definitely increased my irritability and anger" in the weeks before the killings.
The trial heard evidence that Bales had been drinking whisky with other soldiers before the massacre.
Bales, a married father of two children who is originally from the state of Ohio, was on his fourth combat deployment when the killings occurred.
Until the attacks, reports say he had a good, if undistinguished, military record in a decade-long career.
His lawyers say his military service left him with PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he had suffered a brain injury.
Based on reports from AP, AFP and Reuters