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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales: Money, career woes plagued Afghan killings suspect

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, at a U.S. Army exercise in California, August 2011.
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Bales joined the Army, Berling said, after studying business at Ohio State University - he attended three years but didn't graduate - and handled investments before the market downturn pushed him out of the business. Florida records show that Bales was a director at an inactive company called Spartina Investments Inc. in Doral, Fla.; his brother, Mark Bales, and a Mark Edwards were also listed as directors.

"I guess he didn't like it when people lost money," Berling said.

He was struggling to keep payments on his own home in Lake Tapps, a rural reservoir community about 35 miles south of Seattle; his wife asked to put the house on the market three days before the shootings, real estate Philip Rodocker said.

"She told him she was behind in our payments," Rodocker told The New York Times. "She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances."

The house was not officially put on the market until Monday; on Tuesday, Rodocker said, Bales' wife called and asked to take the house off the market, talking of a family emergency.

Bales and his wife bought the Lake Tapps home in 2005, according to records, for $280,000; it was listed this week at $229,000. Overflowing boxes were piled on the front porch, and a U.S. flag leaned against the siding.

The sale may have been a sign of financial troubles. Bales and his wife also own a home in Auburn, about 10 miles north, according to county records, but abandoned it about two years ago, homeowners' association president Bob Baggett said. Now signs posted on the front door and window by the city warn against occupying the house.

"It was ramshackled," Baggett said. "They were not dependable. When they left there were vehicles parts left on the front yard...we'd given up on the owners."

The diverging portrait of the sergeant rippled across the country on Saturday.

"It's our Bobby. He was the local hero," said Michael Blevins, who grew up down the street from him in Norwood, Ohio. The youngest of five boys respected older residents, admonished troublemakers and loved children, even helping another boy in the area who had special needs.

In Washington state, court records showed a 2002 arrest for assault on a girlfriend. Bales pleaded not guilty and was required to undergo 20 hours of anger management counseling, after which the case was dismissed.

A separate hit-and-run charge was dismissed in Sumner, Wash.'s municipal court three years ago, according to records. It isn't clear from court documents what Bales hit; witnesses saw a man in a military-style uniform, with a shaved head and bleeding, running away.

When deputies found him in the woods, Bales told them he fell asleep at the wheel. He paid about $1,000 in fines and restitution and the case was dismissed in October 2009.

Dan Conway, a military attorney who represented one of four Lewis-McChord soldiers convicted in the deliberate killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010, said whether legal scrapes affect a soldier's career depends in part on whether they prompt the Army to issue administrative penalties. The punishments are typically recorded in official personnel files.

Over the past decade, Conway said, the military has sometimes been lax in administering such punishments. As a result, soldiers who might be bad apples sometimes remain in service longer than they otherwise might have.

"It's something you want to note," Conway said. "The best predictor of future violence is past violence."

Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said he didn't know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the shootings, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant.

He also said Friday he didn't know if his client had been drinking the night of the massacre. Browne didn't return telephone calls on Saturday.

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