From the Macon Telegraph:

A Robins Air Force Base airman was sentenced to life Wednesday for the premeditated murder of his pregnant fiancee and her unborn daughter.

Charles Amos Wilson III, 30, a support member of the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, will not be eligible for parole, according to statement released by the public affair’s office at the base.

A three-fourths majority of a military court-martial panel of 13 officers and enlisted personnel rendered the life-without-parole sentence.

Full story here. Our prior coverage here and here. H/t CD

20 Responses to “Airman Wilson Receives LWOP for Murder”

  1. Charlie Gittins says:

    I wonder if the accused would have pleaded guilty if the DP was off the table.  A weeks long trial and hundreds of thousands of dollars might have been saved if the DP was not sought.  The military does not do the DP well.  We really ought to be better stewards of the taxpayer’s money and just give up the DP.  LWOP protects society, punishes the accused and is practically the same as an adjudged DP sentence since no one has been put to death in the military since the early 60s. 

  2. Dollar Bill Stern says:

    Life in the DB for death sentence inmates vs. LWOP inmates is vastly different.  Even if they never get executed, death sentence inmates live in far inferior conditions in terms of prison jobs, freedoms, outdoor time, etc.  LWOP ain’t that bad if you behave yourself in prison.  Death row sucks…every…single…day.

  3. Lone Wolf says:

    No one really does the death penalty well, but if it’s going to exist anywhere the military is the place. It’s a closed community where the punishment might actually have a deterrent effect.

  4. stewie says:

    Well then DBS we could create a harsher environment for otherwise death eligible crimes that make sure every day in prison “sucks.”
     
    Lone Wolf, no one does the DP worse than the military, and I’m not sure why you say it’s a “closed community” or what your support is for the argument that there is a deterrent effect.  There’s never been any study to establish that the DP has a deterrent effect at all, in fact, some studies suggest the opposite.
     
    Regardless, it’s hard to establish a deterrent effect in a system where most of the cases get overturned and no one has been executed since JFK was still alive.

  5. Lieber says:

    DBS is correct.

  6. Bionic Barry Dylan says:

    I certainly agree with Lone Wolf – of all places, DP should exist in the military.  Stewie also makes a good point…for a variety of reasons, I don’t think the MJ system handles DP practice very well.  A big part of it, IMHO, is the way MJ practice is structured, with very few senior practitioners seeing court time. 
    Overall though, the entire DP system needs overhaul from the top down.  There can be no deterrent effect when an individual is sentenced to death and then sits on death row for an average of almost 20 years.  Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion in Glossip I think addresses a lot of the problems with the current state of affairs of DP practice.  Of course, in the military, these problems are compounded by the unique system.
    https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-7955_aplc.pdf

  7. stewie says:

    Bionic Barry, can you or Other Barry point me to where Scalia’s opinion addresses the current problems in DP practice? Because I read through it and what I took away from it was basically the only problem he appears to see is we should go back to it taking 2 years or less like the old days to review it on appeal. Nothing about the fact that the race of the victim has clear impact on who gets charged capital, or the socioeconomic factors tied to the DP, or even the gender disparity (yes for once men you are in fact discriminated against).  I did read it quickly so maybe I missed something, but I’d love it if someone on the right would say hey, yeah, we’ve got some real structural problems here.

  8. Bionic Barry Dylan says:

    stewie:
     
    You are correct – he doesn’t go directly to the studies regarding socioeconomic factors, gender, etc.  He references the timeliness factor as the product of the departure from the original understanding of the 8th Amendment.  Of course, I realize even that is a loaded comment – intelligent minds may differ on what the original understanding of the 8th Amendment was, and even Scalia recognizes that the Framers had bitter disagreements about capital punishment.
     
    I guess what I take from it ultimately (as I do with most of Scalia and Thomas’ concurrences) is that processes need to be both simplified and left in the hands of the people.  In the military justice system, the complicated appellate process in capital cases is compounded by the fact that we don’t have specialized capital practitioners.

  9. stewie says:

    I’m really not trying to be antagonistic here, but I honestly have no idea what it means to say “left in the hands of ‘the people'”
    “The people” aren’t designing a system of justice/punishment, elected legislators are, and then selected judges are weighing-in later on whether it’s allowed or not. The DP is not a simple process, so what value is there in “simplifying it?”  It’s about the most complicated, difficult and momentous thing a government can do to a citizen, should we really be making it “simple?”
     
    And how does simplifying it address the issues I raised? Does it make the defense attorneys more qualified, or does it make it so killing a White person is no more or less likely to lead to the DP than killing a brown person does? The problems in the MJ system are in fact as you agree about lack of specialization, which belies the very idea that the answer is simplification of the process does it not?
     
    On a separate note, there were a lot of ideas in the 18th Century, not all of them were very good or applicable to a 21st Century superpower, so the idea that we are wedded to a compromise political document as it was understood (or not) by the sometimes very conflicted two sides at the time and can do no more, particularly when it’s often hard if not impossible to figure that out (particularly when many parts were on purpose written vaguely so everyone was happy enough to sign it) has always been confusing to me but that’s perhaps a conversation for another time.

  10. Bionic Barry Dylan says:

    I don’t see your comments as antagonistic and maybe I’m just having trouble organizing my thoughts coherently today…or maybe I am never as coherent as I think I am.  Perhaps my observation goes more to the process of DP, while yours addresses application of DP?  Of course, my observations also come as an outside observer.  I have tried several murder cases, though I have never done a capital case as a TC or DC.
     
    I think the process can be simplified.  That doesn’t mean it is made simple.  But if we accept that DP is an available punishment for certain crimes I certainly don’t think it shouldn’t take an average of 18 years to execute a sentence.   Perhaps standardize and simplify would be the mantra of reform the process.  In fact, (as just one point) I think having a dedicated capital bar both inside and outside the MJ system might make the process better and simpler as well as making the application more standard.  Mind you, I’m not advocating merging the MJ system and the civilian system when I say that.  Like talk of Constitutional interpretation, that may also be a conversation for another time.
     
    I think that when Scalia says “the people” that he is referring to the individuals directly involved in the process, primarily the jury (or panel in the MJ system), as well as the citizens of individual jurisdictions who decide whether they want DP as an available punishment in their system.  That judges later weigh in on whether it’s allowed or not, I think he believes is one of the primary problems that makes the process so cumbersome…hence the average of 18 years to execute a death sentence.  Of course, that raises the next issue of what role does the judiciary play?  Some tend to be of the Scalia/Thomas mindset that the judiciary should involve themselves as little as possible, where others might be more along the Breyer line of thought…invite the bar to give the judiciary a reason to find the death penalty is now, for whatever reason, an 8th Amendment violation.  And of course, there is every other opinion in between those two ends.
     
    As far as addressing the social and economic factors you reference…I don’t know if there is ever going to be a perfect solution, and I won’t try to placate anyone by saying there is an easy or even available one.  I have heard statistics about the application of DP as it relates to socioeconomic factors that come to completely distinct conclusions, but I simply haven’t looked into the raw data myself to get a good understanding of what biases may underlie the things I have read in that regard.

  11. stewie says:

    I certainly appreciate the thoughtful response…let me move backwards through it.
     
    I think my biggest problem with capital punishment is the very thing you correctly address, there is never going to be a perfect solution. But given the result of what happens when it goes wrong (an innocent person is executed), shouldn’t you require a perfect solution before you do it? Otherwise you are left debating what an acceptable number/percentage of innocent executions is acceptable or trying to make a ridiculous argument that innocent people are never executed.
     
    You approach it from, the DP is constitutionally-viable, now what.  I get that, I do. It’s reality, it’s the way things are.  For me it’s more of a two-part question.  1. Is the DP right? 2A. If yes, how do we do it right? 2B. If no, and getting rid of it isn’t an option, how do we mitigate it as much as possible?  So for me it’s both process and application, they are connected in my mind.
     
    I’m firmly in camp 2B to be honest because I ultimately don’t think we can do it “perfectly” and I think the only acceptable number of innocents executed is 0.  Perhaps if the evidence showing deterrence was compelling, but it isn’t.
     
    But to my mind, even in Camp 2A where I believe you are, and certainly at worst a large plurality of Americans if not slight majority depending on the polling…you are still left with so many errors and problems and systemic issues…that it takes about 20 years to get there. Part of it may also be that most of our country follows a bifurcated appellate process that has to flow through two separate sovereigns.  I’m not sure how you simplify that to be honest.
     
    They’ve already streamlined and restricted Federal Habeas about as much as you can.
     
    As far as having a capital bar in the military, in theory sure, but the problem is the how.
     
    We average what one capital case every 5-8 years? There’s no volume to gain the experience needed. Do we hire a civilian bar of capital experts who are at HQ TDS and then are assigned solely to capital cases? Maybe, but that doesn’t solve the lack of judicial experience to do the appeals at the Service Courts or CAAF.  What about establishing automatic cert to all capital cases to the Supremes? Outside the box, might be a good idea, would never happen.
     
    To me, the best answer is to get rid of it, both within the military and without…but barring that, then it’s to systematically identify, recognize and address the myriad problems, issues and biases to make it as unbiased and fair as possible.

  12. Bionic Barry Dylan says:

    stewie – From day one as an MJ practitioner, my belief was that justice is always about getting to the right answer.  And I certainly believe you are correct that it is unreasonable to state that there is an “acceptable” number of innocent individuals who can be executed.  If an innocent individual is executed, we have not gotten the to the right answer, and justice has not been done.
     
    I actually think you and I agree much more than we disagree.  What I call simplify is fairly well what you expand upon – recognizing that there are issues (some people actually fool themselves into believing no such problems exist) and then addressing them to make the system as unbiased and fair as possible. 
     
    I don’t know how we could develop a capital bar in the military short of allowing experienced TC and DC to dedicate their practice exclusively to offenses that could be capital if charged as such (so, under current SCOTUS precedent, probably only murder though death is still available for other offenses under UCMJ) while also allowing them to work those cases in Federal Court.  The more I actually think about that, the more my head hurts considering all the problems that would arise.
     
    I think the only place we disagree is streamlining the habeas process – there certainly needs to be heightened review, but I do think it could be smoother and more efficient.  Again, I say that as someone who has only viewed the process academically from the outside and through study – not as someone who has been directly involved.  I am always willing to accept the possibility that I am wrong.  Only a fool believes he is infallible. 
     
    One thing is for sure, change is needed, either through elimination (which I don’t see happening, regardless of what I think personally about DP), or through reform.  And that is only going to come through thoughtful, well-reasoned, and intelligent discussion as we are having here.  Unfortunately, that seems hard to come by these days in many forums.

  13. Phil Stackhouse says:

    Congratulations to the defense team.  I don’t even know who they are, but they deserve congratulations for saving a life.  Having trained death penalty lawyers for a number of years, those that have carried that burden and lost are scarred for a lifetime…or they are soulless and shouldn’t have been representing the client from the start.
    At some point, as s society, perhaps we will rise above the death penalty

  14. Advocaat says:

    Amen, Phil Stackhouse.

  15. capital bar says:

    We could develop a capital bar by having each branch provide one senior O-4/junior O-5 for a three year position.  Your first year is spent training and learning from the guy who has been there three years.  By your 3rd and final year, you are doing the training.  There would be one civilian position designated as “permanent learned counsel.”  We have enough capital work throughout the DoD to keep a team of 4 people busy.  When they are not actively working a capital case, they can serve a training function for the rest of the defense bar and perhaps work on other complex cases.
    Both the costs to the services would be shared as well as the benefits.  If the military is serious about putting people to death, they should show it by creating a capital defense bar.  Until then, cases like Witt are always going to be a problem.

  16. Zachary D Spilman says:

    There would be one civilian position designated as “permanent learned counsel.”  We have enough capital work throughout the DoD to keep a team of 4 people busy. 

    This is a good idea except for the civilian position. The military justice system needs to stop outsourcing its core competencies to civilian employees. There are plenty of competent attorneys on active duty and in the reserves. 

  17. stewie says:

    I’d agree in most areas Zach EXCEPT here. I think having each service’s TDS hire one capitally-qualified civilian counsel full time would be a great stopgap measure and in reality the only short-term solution.  Because you can’t have uniformed folks just doing capital work for the time-frame you’d need to become learned counsel. There’s not enough volume for it, and how would they get promoted?
     
    I’d say capital bars approach is a pretty strong start to getting to the right answer if we are going to have the DP.

  18. Charlie Gittins says:

    I am pretty experienced and I have done one DP case at the zenith of my experience before I retired from MJ.  It was like nothing I have ever done before.  I spent a tour as a DC on active duty — more time on DC duty than most. and then I was a DC for the next 15-16 years as a civilian defense counsel doing only MJ cases (nothing in local-yokel court)  There is no way an AD lawyer who would like to be promoted could train long enough and have enough experience to do one the way the current career tracks for JAs are formulated.  As a guy with 20 plus years experience trying cases (few hired me to plead them — the few pleas I did ended up there as damage control when the case went south), the DP case I did (US v. Bozicevich) was the most stressful case I was ever involved with, particularly in member selection because you can easily lose the DP if you don’t rid your panel of obvious “killers.”  A civilian counsel DP “learned counsel” expert is the obvious choice, but there are not enough DP trial to make that work across the services. Perhaps a special office with 2 or 3 specialists in the DOD (non-service specific) is the answer and require those counsel to work as appellate counsel on DP (and possibly complex) cases to keep them fully employed.  I am not striking for the job as I will never do another DP case (I am 1-0, so I’ll keep my record intact), but I believe if the military is going to continue to do DP cases, there needs to be a serious effort to have on board counsel who are competent to litigate the cases.   

  19. k fischer says:

    Can TDS offices hire civilians to be detailed to represent military accuseds at Courts-martial?

  20. a. hernandez says:

    Kyle, I was one of two TDS counsel in the DP trial with Charlie Gittins. We argued a “we are per se ineffective” motion because no jurisdiction, including GITMO, would allow any of us defend a DP case; in most jurisdictions not even as second chair.  We asked for a court ordered non-capital referral or hiring of a “learned counsel” in accordance with DOJ standards and lost (the government argued, and the judge agreed, that we are not DOJ, so it does not apply to us – we argued that we all are part of the same federal govt. and therefore a Soldier should not be disadvantaged for his status as a Soldier).  Motion denied, so we tried the case.  I believe that the Services should work on a Memorandum of Agreement with the Federal public defender’s office to pay for one of their in-house or regularly contracted capital attorneys to handle the military’s DP cases.