Defense Attorney Wants to Blame Kandahar Massacre on Steroids

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The defense attorney representing the soldier responsible for murdering 17 civilians, including nine children, in Afghanistan has been reportedly investigating the use of anabolic steroids as a possible legal defense for his client’s actions. Robert Bales, an infantryman with United States Army, has been charged with seventeen counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault for the killings in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai in Afghanistan on March 11, 2012. The incident has become known as the “Kandahar Massacre”.

Anabolic steroids were discovered in Bales’ living quarters after the incident according to internal Pentagon documents cited by PBS NewsHour. Based on this information, defense attorney John Henry Browne has requested his client’s medical records and a list of all medications that were prescribed to him. Anabolic steroids, frequently used for non-medical purposes, may not be a part of Bales’ medical history.

The defense strategy of blaming criminal acts on the psychological effects of anabolic steroids has sometimes been referred to as the “dumbbell defense”. The term “roid rage” has often been used to describe steroid-induced aggression.

Anabolic steroids are only one of several medications that Browne could attempt to assign blame as a precipitating factor that triggered Bales violent actions. While steroids have popularly been associated with “roid rage”, other medications possibly used by Bales have also been linked to violence. These include the anti-malaria drug Lariam and the sleep drug Ambien. Both Lariam and Ambien are frequently prescribed in the military.

The strategy of blaming anabolic steroids, Lariam or Ambien for criminal actions has some precedent.

Two soldiers who murdered their wives at Fort Braggs blamed their actions on psychotic episodes brought on by the military-developed Lariam.

Ambien has been associated with bizarre and violent behaviors that have occurred when individuals were reportedly asleep or otherwise unconscious.

Most of the time, judges and juries reject the use of steroids as a legitimate excuse absolving a defendant of responsbility for a crime. But sometimes it works.

Michael D. Williams, a competitive bodybuilder in the 1980s, broke into six homes and set fire to three of them. Williams was acquitted after a judge concluded that “toxic levels of anabolic steroids” resulted in a psychotic episode that prevented the court from holding Williams responsible for his crimes.

In Bales’ case, the use of alcohol may have also been involved. The media has reported that Bales was seen drinking with other soldiers on the night of the massacre. The relationship between alcohol and aggression and violence has been one of the most researched topics in alcohol research.

Unfortunately, anabolic steroids usually get the most attention as culprits in violent crimes.



Sagalyn, D. (April 2, 2012). Lawyer to Examine Bales’ Medications at Time of Afghan Killings. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military/jan-june12/bales_04-02.html