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Offutt airman pleads guilty to killing fellow service member; victim's mother wants life without parole

Offutt airman pleads guilty to killing fellow service member; victim's mother wants life without parole

Airman 1st Class Timothy Wilsey admitted to a military judge Thursday what he confessed privately in his journal 20 months ago.

He strangled an acquaintance, Airman 1st Class Rhianda Dillard, while the two watched television together one summer evening in her Offutt Air Force Base dormitory.

“I killed Airman Dillard by putting my arm around her neck. Then I switched arms,” said Wilsey, reading stiffly from a prepared statement. “I sat on top of her and strangled her with both my hands.”

Wilsey pleaded guilty to a single count of premeditated murder in connection with the death of Dillard, 20, on July 29, 2016, and to one count of deserting his unit, the 55th Intelligence Support Squadron, after he fled from Offutt in his car early the following morning. He was arrested at a motel in Emporia, Virginia, on Aug. 11, 2016, and has been jailed ever since.

The court-martial was moved from a small courtroom at Offutt Air Force Base to the Roman L. Hruska Federal Courthouse in downtown Omaha to allow more space for observers. About 20 people attended the first day of a trial and sentencing that is scheduled to continue until Tuesday.

Wilsey’s guilty plea is part of a pretrial agreement with military prosecutors. The maximum sentence for premeditated murder is life in prison without parole, and the minimum sentence is a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Under the rules of military court-martial, the trial judge, Col. Vance Spath, will hear testimony from both the prosecution and defense over the next several days and determine a sentence.

Reading quickly and in a monotone, Wilsey also apologized.

“I’m very sorry for everyone I hurt,” he said. “I apologize to Airman 1st Class Dillard’s family, to my family, and to the Air Force.” He repeated the same words twice, once for the murder charge and once for the desertion charge.

Rhianda Dillard’s mother, Elizabeth Dillard, was in the courtroom with her daughter Jennifer, 13, and other relatives.

“It didn’t mean anything,” Elizabeth Dillard said of Wilsey’s apology. “It didn’t feel like he really meant it. Like he was just saying it because he had to.”

She remembered her daughter as a bright girl who sang in her church choir and was fascinated by robotics while attending D’Iberville High School near Biloxi, Mississippi. She said Rhianda turned down a college scholarship to join the Air Force. She received her first assignment, the 55th Strategic Communications Squadron at Offutt, a few months before her death. She loved her job, her mother said.

Wilsey said in court Thursday that he knew Rhianda Dillard only slightly before the night he killed her.

“I may have run into her once or twice,” he said.

But they ran into each other near her Turner Hall dormitory, and Wilsey said she invited him to her room to watch television shows on her laptop computer.

He did not explain why her killed her, though he wrote in his journal that he counted down three times before he worked up the nerve to attack her.

He also wrote that he took a box of Oreo cookies from her room. Sometime afterward, Wilsey texted Dillard’s dorm room number to one of his friends with the message, “my bad.” When the friend, puzzled, visited the dorm, he found it surrounded with crime-scene tape.

Jennifer Dillard’s life hasn’t been the same since her older sister was killed.

“I’ve been sad,” she said. “I feel empty. I just miss her. I feel like I can’t trust anybody.”

Elizabeth Dillard, dry-eyed, said she wants one thing out of the proceeding.

“Justice,” she said.

And what would justice be?

“Life without parole,” she said. “I hope he stays (in prison) forever.”

The trial will resume Friday with testimony from medical experts, lawyers said. Defense witnesses, including Wilsey’s father, will testify Monday.

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