Airman convicted in 2004 slaying back on death row
Stars and Stripes
An airman is back on death row after the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals announced it would reconsider a decision made earlier this year that had overturned the double murderer’s death sentence.
The court agreed to an Air Force request for the full 10-member court to reconsider whether the death penalty was appropriate for Senior Airman Andrew Witt, who was convicted of the brutal stabbing murder of a married couple nine years ago.
In August, a five-judge panel ruled 3-2 to overturn Witt’s death sentence. The three judges decided that Witt’s defense lawyers had erred in not introducing mitigating evidence — a recent head injury and facets of his childhood, a witness who could have testified he was remorseful — that could have persuaded at least one juror at his court-martial to spare Witt the death penalty.
Witt, the only Air Force member on death row, killed Senior Airman Andrew Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, in July 2004. Witt barged into their home on Warner Robins Air Force Base, Ga., after Schliepsiek had angrily phoned him for making sexual overtures to his wife. Witt stabbed Schliepsiek several times, then stabbed a friend, Senior Airman Jason King, who had tried to intervene. King sustained life-threatening injuries but fled to safety.
Witt then smashed through a locked bedroom door to stab Jamie Schliepsiek, curled in a fetal position, five times. He then returned to her paralyzed husband and stabbed him in the heart, splitting it in half.
The pair, in their mid-20s, both from Peoria, Ill., and married for two years, were a week away from leaving the Air Force to return to civilian life.
The lengthy legal process has taken a toll on the couple’s already bereaved, devastated families, who during Witt’s trial heard Andy’s desperate 911 call, heard him begging Witt not to kill Jamie.
“We knew it was going to take time. We had no idea it would be so much time,” said Dave Schliepsiek, Andy’s father, in an interview after the death sentence was overturned in August. “I was 57 when I went to the trial. I’m getting close to 70.
“I just won’t let myself give up. I feel I owe Andy everything I can do in my power [to see the process through] — and I have no power,” the father said.
“There’s anguish, anxiety. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about it. I have blessings, but I’ve got this anchor. Sometimes it’s just so hard. If they would have given [Witt] life without parole, I’d have been upset, but would I have been in a better place? Yes. But when they gave him the death penalty, they also gave it to me. Now, any less than the death penalty is a loss to us.”
Jim Bielenberg, Jamie’s father, said he’d endured nightmares about the murders nightly until the jury returned Witt’s death sentence. “I’d have put a gun to my head if they hadn’t gone away,” he said after the August court ruling. “To me, when you do what he did to them, you don’t deserve to live.”
Bielenberg said he tries to remember his daughter’s life, not the horrific way she died. “Christmas Eve one year, we’re all sitting around the kitchen and Jamie says, ‘Why don’t we all get dressed up?’ She put on a beautiful red dress. I remember Jamie and Andy were dancing. I just sat there and watched those two dance. I can still see them dancing.”
Witt is one of just six military men currently on death row. Another is the former Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was sentenced to death in August for the 2009 mass shooting at a post clinic that killed 13 people and left 31 others wounded.
Eleven other men sentenced to death at courts-martial since 1984 have had their death sentences overturned and were subsequently sentenced to life in prison, usually with the possibility of parole, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.