03/17/13 — Military procedures will dictate next steps in case against airman

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Military procedures will dictate next steps in case against airman

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 17, 2013 1:50 AM

Air Force officials have still not charged Senior Airman Matthew Theurer with a crime in connection with the death of his 15-month-old son.

But once they determine -- after they receive the official autopsy report sources at the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel said was completed Thursday -- whether the 21-year-old will be tried for murder, voluntary manslaughter or negligent homicide, the three charges the AF Office of Special Investigations said are on the table, a court-martial will likely be convened.

4th Fighter Wing Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Debra Luker described, at the request of the News-Argus, just how the Air Force legal process works.

Military commanders, she said, typically determine what action, if any, is appropriate given the nature of the alleged crimes.

This could include a letter of reprimand, denial of re-enlistment, involuntary discharge, non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or, as is expected in the Theurer case, a court-martial.

The charges are, traditionally, levied by the accused's immediate supervisor, she said.

But for a court-martial to occur, those charges must be forwarded to what the Air Force calls, "a court-martial convening authority."

At Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, that role would likely belong to 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt.

The colonel would then have several options -- everything from dismissing the charges to referring them to an investigating officer who would conduct a pre-trial hearing that would determine whether the accused should face a general or special court-martial.

A general court-martial would involve senior Air Force leaders from across the globe.

If the charges are referred to trial, a court date is set.

The first part of a trial is called the "findings portion," during which, the accused's guilt or innocence is determined. Like in a civilian court, guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing follows -- a process that, during a court-martial, typically occurs immediately after the findings.

Penalties vary depending on the charges levied.