Airman pleads not guilty to premeditated murder in AFN case
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Air Force Staff Sgt. Sean Oliver pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder and other charges Monday as his court-martial for the 2013 death of Petty Officer Dmitry Chepusov began.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors wrangled over the admissibility of a deposition and an alleged conversation Oliver had with the witness before Chepusov’s death. Oliver faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted on the main charge: that he strangled his American Forces Network colleague in the house of another co-worker on Dec. 14, 2013, after a night of drinking.
Oliver, an AFN broadcast technician, was allegedly involved in a romantic relationship with the wife of Chepusov, who worked as a broadcaster for the military public affairs network. Chepusov was found dead in the passenger seat of Oliver’s car during a traffic stop in downtown Kaiserslautern, not far from the apartment where the killing allegedly took place.
Prosecutors submitted more than a dozen paper and plastic bags of physical evidence, which was carried into the courtroom in a plastic bin by two airmen. Among other items, the bin contained samples of blood spatter evidence found at the apartment, various cell phones and a set of bathmats and a towel.
Oliver allegedly told German police that he’d found Chepusov wandering around Kaiserslautern with the bathmats and towel and offered him a ride. An Air Force investigator said at a hearing in November that he didn’t believe that version of events.
After hours of questioning by Air Force investigators, Oliver allegedly acknowledged some sort of involvement in Chepusov’s death, though his defense attorneys have argued that the statement was not a confession. They earlier lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have Oliver’s written and oral statements to the investigators suppressed.
Air Force Judge (Col.) Donald Eller granted some defense motions Monday to suppress parts of a deposition of an airman who has since been kicked out of the service. Prosecutors said they had tried to reach the former airman, who lived in the apartment where Chepusov allegedly died, to testify at the trial, but he has so far failed to respond. Eller said he doesn’t have the jurisdiction to compel the former airman to testify.
Eller estimated that the trial would take at least three weeks, given the list of witnesses and experts expected to testify.
Attorneys are set to begin vetting the panel — similar to a civilian jury — Tuesday morning. Eller indicated that process could take at least a day.