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Appeals court cancels decision to overturn airman's death sentence

Oct. 28, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Then-Senior Airman Andrew Witt enters the courtroom in 2005. He was convicted of killing Senior Airman Andy Schliepsiek and Schliepsiek's wife, Jamie.
Then-Senior Airman Andrew Witt enters the courtroom in 2005. He was convicted of killing Senior Airman Andy Schliepsiek and Schliepsiek's wife, Jamie. (Melissa Golden)
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The only airman on military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., will remain there, at least for now.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals has canceled a decision to overturn the death sentence of Senior Airman Andrew Witt, who was convicted in the 2004 double murder of a fellow airman and his wife and the attempted murder of a now-retired staff sergeant at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

The appeals court wrote in its Aug. 21 ruling Witt’s defense attorneys had overlooked key evidence that could have persuaded jurors to spare the killer’s life. The 3-2 decision also ordered a new sentencing hearing.

The Air Force filed a motion for reconsideration of the appeals court decision. The motion was granted Oct. 21 when the court vacated its initial ruling. All 10 appellate judges will now decide whether to uphold the death penalty, probably in a hearing in December at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., according to a source familiar with the case.

The appeals court wrote in its now-vacated ruling jurors should have heard about a head injury Witt sustained four months before the murders as well as evidence that his mother had spent two weeks in a counseling clinic when Witt was a child. The court also said the defense should have put on the stand a witness who saw Witt express remorse for his crimes.

The two dissenting judges said jurors would have returned the same sentence even if they had heard such evidence.

Witt stabbed to death Senior Airman Andy Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, at their home on Robins in the early morning of July 5, 2004. A third victim, then-Senior Airman Jason King, was stabbed multiple times in the back but managed to escape and call for help.

A few hours before the stabbings, Jamie confided to King and her husband that Witt had tried to kiss her a couple of nights earlier. Andy called Witt to confront him, and the two argued. Witt later told investigators he then changed into his Air Force fatigues, put a combat knife in his trunk and drove on base. He watched King and the Schliepsieks through a window before walking into their home and attacking them.

King and the families of Andy and Jamie supported the death sentence. The Aug. 21 decision to overturn it was “opening up a lot of wounds we’ve tried so hard to put in the back of our minds,” Jim Bielenberg, Jamie’s father, told Air Force Times earlier this year.

The appeals court’s decision to vacate its initial ruling means Witt will remain on death row at Fort Leavenworth until the appeals court decides again whether to uphold the death sentence.

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