2017 Texas Airforce Case Finally Resolved


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An almost five-year-long legal case concerning a Texas church shooting was resolved on Feb. 7. The final verdict was that the Air Force would have to pay over 230 million dollars to the victims and their families. This is a breakdown of the case and how it led to this verdict.

An important thing to note about this case is that it is not a criminal trial, but a personal injury case. A criminal trial case is against a specific person or in some cases a group, where it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime. While personal injury cases are different; they are civil cases. The thing about civil cases is that they do not operate under the same ruling that it must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, with civil cases, all you have to prove is that it was more likely than not that they were liable. In other words, all that has to be proven is that the defendant is more than 50% liable for the crime.

The shooting took place in 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A 26-year-old man by the name of Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church during a Sunday service. There were about 46 people at the church at the time. During the shooting, 25 of those people died, one of which was pregnant. Kelley ended up running away from the church after being shot and chased by two men who had overheard the gunfire, and reportedly later died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Kelley’s death removed the need for a criminal trial, however, there was still a growing personal injury case against one party: the Federal Government. This is because from 2010 to 2014 Kelley was a member of the Air Force. During his service, he was court-martialed (tried in a court specifically for members of the military), and pled guilty to domestic assault against his wife and stepson. He was jailed for about a year and was later discharged from the Air Force in 2014. However, the Air Force never updated the FBI database with this incident. So, when Kelley went to buy the gun, he would later use in the shooting, nothing showed up on his background check, allowing him to legally buy the gun. If the Air Force had put in the report regarding Kelley’s assault conviction, he wouldn’t have been sold the gun. This was the major groundwork for the case against the government seeking damages for the victims and their families.

In 2020, the courts ruled that the government was liable for the church shooting, but it wasn’t until July of 2021 that the judge ruled that the Air Force was 60% liable for the shooting. Now that the court has decided that the Air Force was liable, the rest of the case was just determining how much they had to pay. Almost a year later, in February of 2022, it was decided that the Air Force would pay 230 million dollars in damages to the 21 survivors and the families of the victims and survivors, marking the end of this long legal battle.