Video shows airman implicating himself in death of AFN broadcaster
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — A panel of officers and enlisted personnel watched video evidence Wednesday in which Air Force Staff Sgt. Sean Oliver changes his story and implicates himself in the death of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dmitry Chepusov, whom he is charged with killing.
The video was the first piece of evidence prosecutors put forth in Oliver’s court-martial, in which he stands accused of premeditated murder, obstructing justice, making false official statements and aggravated assault.
A panel of four officers and six enlisted members — the equivalent of a civilian jury — watched more than four hours of video Wednesday recorded during an interview of Oliver by Air Force special agents at Ramstein Air Base in late December 2013. The interview was conducted five days after German police pulled Oliver over during a traffic stop and found Chepusov dead in his car’s passenger seat.
Oliver initially told the Air Force investigators that Chepusov got into an argument with one of his American Forces Network colleagues after a night out drinking, then struck out alone, possibly to catch a cab in downtown Kaiserslautern.
Oliver told investigators that he later drove around in search of Chepusov and found him walking like a zombie, carrying bathmats and a towel from the apartment of a colleague, where the altercation occurred.
Oliver said he put Chepusov into his car and was driving him to his on-base housing in Vogelweh when he was pulled over. Oliver said he realized Chepusov was unresponsive only when police asked if his passenger was all right.
One of the two Air Force investigators tells Oliver on the tape: “I’m not buying it.”
After hours of questioning, Oliver changed his story and admitted to choking Chepusov. He said he intended to knock him out, not to kill him.
Oliver maintained in his statement to investigators that Chepusov was alive when he put him into his car.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Maj. Jeremy Gehman said that it took minutes for Oliver to strangle Chepusov and that he continued to choke him long after he passed out, after which he got up and kicked Chepusov’s lifeless body.
“That,” Gehman said, “is premeditated murder.”
In the video, Oliver initially denies having an intimate relationship with Chepusov’s estranged wife but later admits their relationship was sexual.
Oliver also told investigators during the interview that he had gone through a divorce and related an incident in which, after his wife left him, he attacked and choked her new lover.
Oliver faces charges of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice in that incident. Prosecutors allege that he agreed to stop choking the man only after he agreed not to press charges. There were two other witnesses to the attack, in addition to the victim.
The trial in the Chepusov case was set to resume Thursday and is expected to last three weeks.
Oliver’s defense deferred its opening statement and could make one later in the proceeding.