USA: COURT OF APPEALS ORDERS NEW SENTENCING HEARING FOR ANDREW PAUL WITT
July 19, 2016: The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ordered a new sentencing hearing for Andrew Paul Witt. In the unanimous ruling, the 5-member court concluded that the lower Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals acted improperly with its handling of Witt's original appeal.
The Court is the nation's highest military appeals court. Its members are all civilian.
The new sentencing hearing will effectively be the 4th go-around for Witt, the only airman on the military's death row in Leavenworth, Kansas.
His revived prospects result from a legal error that, while seemingly technical, was also deemed worrisome for the military justice system's overall reputation. A 12-officer panel first imposed the death penalty in 2005.
The Air Force court struck down the sentence in 2013, citing alleged shortcomings with Witt's legal representation. 4 judges recused themselves because they joined the appeals court after the oral argument. The government then asked for reconsideration.
The Air Force court reversed itself in 2014 and upheld Witt's death sentence, this time with 3 of the 4 previously recused judges taking part. "The participation of disqualified judges in the reconsideration process produced a significant risk of undermining the public's confidence in the judicial process," the Court wrote in the nine-page decision released Tuesday.
The new decision did not elaborate on the underlying crime, whose essential details Witt does not contest.
On July 5, 2004 Witt stabbed to death Senior Airman Andrew Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, in their home on Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. That Witt had killed the couple was never in doubt. His defense team worked to spare him from the death penalty by trying to convince the jury that he'd been unable to form premeditation to murder.
The new hearing could result in another death sentence, or life terms with or without the possibility of parole.
The last U.S. military execution occurred in 1961. (Source: modbee.com, 19/07/2016)