When was the last military execution?
In 2005, Andrew Paul Witt, an enlisted airman based in Georgia, was sentenced to death for the murder of a married couple in the summer of 2004. The Air Force court overturned the sentence in 2013 due to apparent “shortcomings” of his defense counsel, but four judges who were not on the appeals court at the time of the oral arguments recused themselves.
In 2014, upon request by the government for reconsideration, the court reversed that ruling and upheld the death sentence, with three of those judges taking part in the decision. In July, the highest military appeals court ordered another sentencing hearing after finding that the lower Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals mishandled Witt’s original appeal.
While the decision did not focus on the underlying crime, the ruling raised concerns over whether the technical legal error would damage the military justice system’s reputation.
“The participation of disqualified judges in the reconsideration process produced a significant risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process,” wrote judge Scott W. Stucky.
A Grisly Murder
Witt has not challenged the details of the murder on that hot summer night when he was stationed at Robins Air Force base. The wife of a senior airman told her husband that Witt made a sexual advance toward her on the night of July 4. The husband made repeated late night calls to Witt, and during their late night lengthy discussions, he dressed in battle fatigues, took a knife from his closet, stashed it in the trunk of his car, and then drove onto the base.
Meanwhile another senior airman went to the couple’s house, but a 4:00 A.M. Witt went to the house where a scuffle ensued, and he stabbed both men. The wounded senior airman fled the scene to get help and Witt also left, but he soon returned, broke down a bedroom door, stabbed the woman to death and finished off the husband.
Waiting on Death Row
Witt, the only airman on the military’s death row in Leavenworth, Kansas, could either be resentenced to death or life with or without parole. While it is unclear whether the death sentence will be reversed, the last military execution was in 1961. Given the possibility that shortcomings in the airman’s legal representation may have contributed to that ruling, this case demonstrates how military personnel facing criminal charges need an experienced military murder defense attorney.