Victim's family, friends testify as jury weighs sentence in AFN murder case
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The penalty phase of Air Force Staff Sgt. Sean Oliver’s court-martial began Thursday with tearful testimony from family and friends of both the airman and the man he was convicted of killing.
Oliver faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole after being found guilty Wednesday of unpremeditated murder in the killing of Petty Officer 2nd Class Dmitry Chepusov, an American Forces Network broadcaster.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare to bury your child,” Chepusov’s mother, Eugenia Bushmich testified. “You’re never prepared for it.”
Army Cpl. William Midgley, one of Chepusov’s former neighbors, grew emotional as he remembered his friend. If Chepusov died in an accident or on a deployment, it would be easier to comprehend his death, he said.
But “he wasn’t lost. He was (expletive) stolen from us.”
Oliver’s defense tried to build a case for leniency for the airman, calling Oliver’s ex-wife and others to talk about him as a friend and father and to assess his potential for rehabilitation.
Angel Oliver testified that her ex-husband’s problems with alcohol ran throughout their marriage, and had gotten worse before she left him and moved back to the U.S. with their children in 2011.
“I have a lot of happy memories of Sean, despite everything” that’s happened, she said.
Oliver’s sister, Miranda Pancoast, testified by phone in her brother’s defense. But defense attorney Maj. Shane McCammon interrupted her testimony after she told the military jury who will decide the airman’s sentence that he “deserved” something for the crimes for which he was convicted.
Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Chatlos, who supervised Chepusov at AFN-Europe’s headquarters, said he put the sailor in charge of the network’s news department just six weeks after the petty officer arrived in Europe, promoting him ahead of other higher-ranking and longer-tenured servicemembers because of his ability to get the job done.
Losing friends in combat, “that you can understand,” Chatlos said. “This made no sense.”
Oliver was found guilty of strangling Chepusov after a night out drinking in December 2013. Oliver testified at court-martial that he was on his way to dump the sailor’s body when he was pulled over by German police early on Dec. 14, 2013.
In an unsworn statement, Oliver apologized to Chepusov’s family and to AFN.
He said he spent much of his life trying not to be like his father, who spent 10 years in prison for raping his mother at knife point.
“Now, just like him, I will be separated from you,” he said to his family.
The maximum sentence Oliver faces is life without parole, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. The panel is to begin deliberations on sentencing Friday morning.