JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – The U.S. soldier who pleaded guilty more than two months ago to killing 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, and injuring many more, condemned what he did as an “act of cowardice” Thursday and apologized repeatedly to the victims’ families, his own family and his comrades in the Army.

“If I could bring their families back, I would,” Staff Sgt. Robert Bales said in unsworn testimony. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.” He added: “I murdered their families.”

Bales spoke before a military jury tasked with deciding whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be eligible for parole. In military court, an accused person is allowed to speak before the court unsworn without being cross-examined.

On Wednesday, prosecutors sought to portray Bales as a frustrated man with a troubling history, while his attorneys brought in witnesses who referred to “Bobby” – the class president and football player, the caring father, the good man who had been tormented by what he saw in war.

He expressed remorse to his family and fellow soldiers.

“Sorry I disgraced you,” he said, turning to look at members of his family, including his wife, mother and brother.