Judge's order to question attorney delays trial of airman charged in Iceland slaying
The trial of a suspect in the death of a fellow airman has been delayed indefinitely after the judge ordered one of the defense attorneys questioned about an alleged conversation she had with the accused.
The issue arose during pretrial motions in the court-martial of Airman Calvin E. Hill of the 56th Rescue Squadron, who is charged in the slaying of Airman 1st Class Ashley Turner in August 2005 at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland.
The delay stems from an alleged confession by Hill to a fellow inmate. During the alleged confession, according to one of the prosecutors in the case, Hill talked about a conversation he had had with one of his defense attorneys, Capt. Melanie Keiper, before Turner’s death. At the time of the alleged conversation, Keiper was representing Hill on charges that he had stolen money from Turner.
According to courtroom testimony, part of that alleged conversation included Keiper telling Hill that one chance he had of beating the theft charges was if Turner didn’t testify, said Capt. Matthew Stoffel, a circuit trial counselor and one of the prosecutors in the case.
By relating that alleged conversation to another inmate, Hill may have broken his own attorney-client privilege, judge Col. William Burd ruled. Discussion of the alleged breach created a potential conflict of interest for Keiper, whom Burd ordered to submit to an interview on the matter after she had stepped from her defense role, Stoffel said.
Turner was found dead in a dormitory where she and Hill lived at Keflavik. Her beaten and stabbed body was found in a common room of the building not long before Hill’s larceny court-martial was to begin.
Hill was arrested in the slaying soon after it happened; he has been in confinement at various installations ever since. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the most serious charge against him: premeditated murder. He is also charged with several lesser crimes, including larceny, obstruction of justice, being absent without leave and making false official statements.
After nearly a year of investigation and legal preparation, initial hearings in the case began July 12, when Hill’s defense submitted the first of a series of pretrial motions. Because the air station has since shut down, the hearings were moved to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.
Argument over the motions pushed the court-martial into the fall, with jury selection slated to begin Nov. 14. It was at that time that Keiper’s role came into question, Stoffel said, preventing the start of the trial.
That brought the court-martial up to Dec. 12, when defense indicated it would file an appeal of Burd’s ruling that Keiper has to testify. That appeal would be heard by the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.
The move set the case adrift as the court waits for the results of that appeal and for the defense team to rebuild itself. At best, the defense indicated it may be ready to reconvene by April, but no date has been set for the trial to resume and no new lead defense counsel has been named, Stoffel said.
To date, no jury has been selected and Hill has not offered pleas on any of the charges against him.
In the meantime, Ashley Turner’s father, Larry Turner, said this week it’s been hard to have the case concerning the death of his daughter dragged out, but he’d rather it was done slowly and correctly than rushed and mishandled.
“I just want justice served, that’s all I want,” Turner said. “I’d rather it be in April and have it done right.”