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Air Force ordered to pay more than $230 million in 2017 Texas church shooting

A federal judge in Texas ruled Monday that the Air Force must pay more than $230 million to survivors and victims’ families for the church shooting that killed over two dozen people

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, should not have been able to buy a gun since he received a bad conduct discharge after pleading guilty to two counts of domestic violence. 

But the Air Force failed to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center, and Kelley was able to pass a background check and buy at least two guns because of this failure. 

The verdict will compensate more than 80 family members of victims and survivors who filed suit against the government.

Derrick Bernaden of San Antonio, Texas visits a memorial where 26 crosses honor the 26 victims killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on November 7, 2017.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

The shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas is the worst shooting in a place of worship in history and the deadliest mass shooting in Texas’ history. Twenty-six people were killed and 20 were injured in the shooting, and Kelley had managed to exit the church before an unidentified area resident confronted him with his own rifle and shot Kelley. Kelley escaped in his car while the resident flagged down a driver, who chased Kelley until he crashed his car. When police arrived, the shooter was found dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News.  

Kelley’s motive has never been completely clear, although authorities said there was a “domestic situation” between Kelley and his former mother-in-law prior to the shooting and she was a member of the First Baptist Church.

“These families are the heroes here,” the lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs, Jamal Alsaffar, said in a statement. “While no amount can bring back the many lives lost or destroyed at the hands of the government’s negligence, their bravery in obtaining this verdict will make this country safer by helping ensure that this type of governmental failure does not happen in our country again.”

 A federal judge in Texas in April said the shooting was 60% the fault of the government.  

Kelley served in the Air Force from 2010 to 2014, with records showing he served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico until his discharge in 2014. He was court-martialed in 2012 on two counts of assault on his then-wife and assault on her child. 

Colonel Don Christensen, a retired Air Force chief prosecutor whose office prosecuted Kelley, told CBS News in 2017 that there were multiple instances in 2011 and 2012 in which Kelley assaulted his then-wife and her son, who was his stepson. Kelley physically assaulted the boy, pushed him down, shook him and fractured his skull, causing a severe hematoma, Christensen said. 

Kelley pleaded guilty to “diverse occasions” of assaulting son and wife, Christensen said. He received a bad conduct discharge, and reduction in rank and confinement for 12 months.

While personnel tried under general court martial can be subject to dishonorable discharge, Kelley received the less severe bad conduct discharge. 

Federal law prohibits those who have been dishonorably discharged from buying a firearm, but the law does not include a blanket prohibition on those who have received a bad conduct discharge. However, certain types of bad conduct discharges can stem from cases that would bar defendants from purchasing firearms.

Texas and federal laws prohibited those with domestic violence convictions from owning firearms. The military is supposed to report to the FBI, for the purposes of prohibiting firearm purchases, convictions on domestic violence charges, as well as convictions that carry maximum potential sentences of more than a year in confinement. 

David Martin and Peter Martinez contributed to this report.



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