A U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting rampage could face the death penalty if found guilty in a court-martial.
The military has referred the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to a court-martial authorized to consider capital punishment, according to a military statement released Wednesday.
Another six Afghans were wounded in the spree near a small U.S. base in Afghanistan's Kandahar province last March, the military said.
"The charges are merely accusations and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty," the military emphasized in its statement.
Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne said the referral was "understandable but totally irresponsible," and that Bales might have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The Army sent him into intense combat into most the intense part of Afghanistan for a fourth tour duty knowing that he had PTSD and a concussive brain injury," Browne said.
Bales' wife, Karilyn, has called the accusations "completely out of character of the man I know and admire."
In a statement released Wednesday, she wrote, "I no longer know if a fair trial for Bob is possible, but it very much is my hope and I will have faith."
She and their children visit Bales every weekend, and "for a few hours I can see and feel the love that flows" between them, she added.
Afghan authorities have pushed for swift action.
"He committed a mass killing crime, and we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime," Ahmad Zia Syamak, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told CNN last month.