The former airman who killed 26 people in a horrific church shooting Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas, should never have been able to legally buy or possess firearms after his 2012 conviction for beating his wife and stepson.
But the Air Force said in a Monday release that initial information indicates Holloman Air Force Base’s Office of Special Investigations failed to enter Devin Kelley’s domestic violence conviction into the National Criminal Information Center’s database, which would have barred him from having guns.
And now, the Air Force has launched a review of how it handled Kelley’s criminal records.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein ordered the service’s Office of the Inspector General to review Kelly’s case, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in the release. The Air Force will also review its databases to make sure records in other cases have been properly reported, and has asked the Defense Department’s IG to review records and procedures across the military.
The Pentagon also said it asked its IG to review its handling of Kelley’s criminal records, and whether information on his conviction was properly entered in the NCIC database. The Defense IG will also review policies and procedures to make sure records from other cases have been reported properly.
Kelley was convicted by a general court-martial of two charges of domestic assault under Article 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and served 12 months in confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California. He was released with a bad conduct discharge in May 2014 and reduced to airman basic, the lowest rank an enlisted airman can have.
According to records released by the Air Force Monday evening, Kelley pleaded guilty to beating, choking and kicking his wife and pulling her hair on divers occasions ― a legal term meaning he committed those actions multiple times ― from about June 2011 to April 2012. He also pleaded guilty to hitting his stepson on his head and body “with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm” on divers occasions from about April 2011 to June 2011.
Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor who oversaw Kelley’s prosecution, told Air Force Times that Kelley violently shook his infant stepson and pushed him to the ground out of anger. Kelley’s assaults resulted in a fractured skull and a subdural hematoma ― a collection of blood outside the brain, which usually results from a severe head injury.
Christensen said that Kelley could have been sentenced to more than five years of confinement, but his plea reduced his potential punishment to as much as three years. He ended up being sentenced to one year.
“The sentences are always disappointingly light, especially with shaken baby cases,” Christensen said. “A year, sadly, is a good sentence, in the sense it‘s better than what we normally get.”
Christensen said that Kelley should have been disqualified from owning a firearm for two reasons ― he was convicted of crimes that authorized a confinement punishment of more than one year, and he was convicted of domestic violence assault.
Kelley was also originally charged with another charge of assaulting his stepson and pointing a loaded gun, as well as an unloaded gun, at his wife. Those charges were withdrawn and dismissed with prejudice.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.