Gun­man got light penalty for abus­ing wife and child

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION - Tom Van­den Brook

WASH­ING­TON – Al­most five years ago, a mil­i­tary court dropped gun charges against Air­man 1st Class Devin Kel­ley — who gunned down more than two dozen peo­ple in a Texas church Sun­day — and gave him a one- year sen­tence for at­tack­ing his wife and her 1- year- old child.

His sen­tence was “very light,” said Don Chris­tensen, the Air Force’s former top pros­e­cu­tor, whose of­fice over­saw the Kel­ley case. “Very light, but sadly not un­usu­ally light. I’ve done a lot of shaken- baby cases, and they al­most al­ways come in around a year of con­fine­ment.”

Be­yond the one- year sen­tence, the Air Force failed to put the con­vic­tion in the fed­eral back­ground check data­base, which in turn al­lowed Kel­ley to buy the AR- 15 he used Sun­day to kill 25 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a preg­nant woman whose un­born child also died, and wound 20 at his mother- in­law’s church.

The mil­i­tary court con­sid­ered al­le­ga­tions that Kel­ley pointed loaded and un­loaded guns at his wife. He ad­mit­ted he struck his in­fant step­son with force that could have killed, and he choked and kicked his wife, doc­u­ments show.

The court dropped the gun charges against Kel­ley in ex­change for a oneyear sen­tence for “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence” for throt­tling his wife and child.

“In 2012, this mem­ber was prop­erly charged, tried, con­victed and sen­tenced by a panel of qual­i­fied Air Force mem­bers for as­sault­ing his wife and mi­nor step­son,” Gen. Robin Rand, who was the top of­fi­cer who signed off on the con­vic­tion, said in a state­ment to USA TO­DAY. “His pros­e­cu­tion was in ac­cor­dance with the prin­ci­ples of our le­gal sys­tem and based on the ev­i­dence gath­ered and our abil­ity to con­vict.”

Chris­tensen said the ver­dict in a civil­ian court prob­a­bly would have been more harsh, but it is dif­fi­cult to make di­rect com­par­isons be­cause of dif­fer­ences in state laws and facts in cases.

He said ac­cused troops of­ten get the ben­e­fit of the doubt by a court made up of fel­low ser­vice­mem­bers.

The mil­i­tary jus­tice sys­tem is ille­quipped to han­dle do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, Chris­tensen said. Low­er­level com­man­ders can de­cide which abuse cases are sent for courts- mar­tial, and they usu­ally know the ac­cused but not the vic­tim.

Troops ac­cused of do­mes­tic abuse “of­ten lay the ground­work by com­plain­ing to their first sergeant, ‘ My wife’s crazy.’ So when the wife fi­nally does come for­ward, his su­pe­ri­ors are ready to dis­be­lieve her,” Chris­tensen said. “The be­lief is that she’s just out to get him. She’s just out to de­stroy his ca­reer.”

Afraid of their abusers and of­ten de­pen­dent on them for sup­port, the women of­ten re­tract their ac­cu­sa­tions, Chris­tensen said. There has been a push to han­dle such cases through coun­sel­ing rather than de­mand­ing that se­ri­ous do­mes­tic abuse cases be han­dled by courts.

Some troops feel that do­mes­tic prob­lems should be kept within fam­i­lies, said Chris­tensen, pres­i­dent of Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers, an ad­vo­cacy group for vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault in the mil­i­tary.

“There are still too many in the mil­i­tary who view this as an is­sue be­tween a man and his wife or a par­ent and his child,” Chris­tensen said. “We also have those who worry that if they give the guy a puni­tive dis­charge, it could hurt his fam­ily be­cause it would limit his abil­ity to make money.”

Kel­ley was given a bad- con­duct dis­charge, which is less puni­tive than a dis­hon­or­able dis­charge.

He was busted to E- 1, the low­est rank in the Air Force.

The Air Force ac­knowl­edged Mon­day that Kel­ley’s con­vic­tion should have been re­ported to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. That would have barred him from buy­ing the weapons legally. It also an­nounced it had launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine why that in­for­ma­tion was not trans­mit­ted to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.


Peo­ple stop Wed­nes­day at a me­mo­rial near the Sutherland Springs shoot­ing in Texas.

A mil­i­tary court sen­tenced Devin Kel­ley to a sin­gle year for threat­en­ing his wife with a loaded gun and at­tack­ing her 1- year- old.

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