Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 07:31 PM
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Pfc. Derek Guinn was on early morning guard duty at a small outpost in Afghanistan when he heard gunfire coming from the north in the nearby village of Alkozai.
At about 1:15 a.m., he heard several shots — then a pause. Then more shots. That pattern continued for about a half-hour, according to his testimony Tuesday during a preliminary hearing in the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
Army prosecutors allege Bales went to Alkozai in the predawn hours of March 11, embarking on killings there and in a second village that took the lives of 16 civilians, mostly women and children, and wounded six others
Guinn said that was the first time he had heard shots while on early morning watch. He and a second soldier peered north with their night-vision goggles and reported the shots to a soldier on duty at the outpost's operations center.
Guinn eventually shot an illuminating flare in hopes of detecting the source of the gunshots.
"I was just trying to see what was going on," Guinn testified. "But we couldn't see anything."
After the flare went up, the shooting stopped.
At that time, Guinn did not realize Bales was gone from the outpost. With no apparent threat to the outpost, Guinn said, he stopped trying to find the source of the gunfire.
Guinn's testimony indicated soldiers had an early clue that something out of the ordinary was unfolding that morning. But it would be about three hours before Bales was apprehended in front of the outpost, his clothes covered in blood.
The hearing — known as an Article 32 — is to gather evidence that will be reviewed by a presiding officer to determine whether the Army will go forward with a general court-martial. Bales, who faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and numerous other charges, could face the death penalty.
Bales is a 39-year-old infantry soldier whose Lewis McChord-based unit was assigned to support a small Special Forces outpost in Kandahar province.
Prosecutors say Bales first made an unauthorized trip off the base to Alkozai, returned in the predawn hours and then left a second time for the second village.
Once Bales was apprehended outside the base shortly before 5 a.m., he faced questioning from a Special Forces captain who asked where had been and what he had done.
"He said he wasn't going to answer because he loved them (his fellow soldiers)," recalled Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lance Allard in testimony Tuesday.
Army officials say Bales acted alone and was the only soldier known to have made unauthorized exits from the outpost that night. No one else has been charged in connection with any of the killings.
The hearing Tuesday included some conflicting testimony about what Afghan soldiers saw that night.
In testimony Monday, two soldiers testified that they were first alerted to Bale's departure by two Afghan soldiers who said through a translator they saw one American leave the outpost.
But Tuesday, Guinn testified that the same translator told him a different story — that the Afghan soldiers had seen one soldier return to the outpost, then another leave.
A second soldier who testified Tuesday, Cpl. David Wofford, said that he, Guinn and a third soldier had doubts about whether Bales had been the only soldier to go to Alkozai.
Wofford said those doubts were based partly on Guinn's recounting of his talk with the translator, and partly on what he considered the odd behavior of another soldier. In the early morning, that soldier appeared freshly showered and shaved of a beard that had been growing for weeks.
Wofford testified that he went with Guinn and the third soldier to talk with Army criminal investigators about their concerns.
Under questioning from an Army prosecutor, Wofford acknowledged that he had no information that another soldier was in Alkozai.
"Just suspicions," Wofford testified.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 villagers.