William H. Hughes, Jr., also known as Barry “Tim” O’Beirne deserted from the U.S. Air Force in 1983. He was found in 2018, arrested, tried by a general court martial, then convicted on September 5, 2018. He was dismissed from service and given a reprimand. He also spent 45 days in prison.
On October 8, 2019 the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction.
At the end of this post, I’ll ponder the severity of the sentence.
The disgraced former-officer, now-felon is William H. Hughes, Jr.
He had been hiding for 35 years under the assumed name of Barry “Tim” O’Beirne.
Previous post provides more detail on Deserter from the U.S. Air Force apprehended and tried.
Today the above post received a lot of visits from Reddit. Went there and found this discussion of the deserter.
One of the comments pointed me to the USAF appeals court.
There I found the appellate court ruling. Since it is an official government document, there are no copyright restrictions. Here is the appeal ruling in full:
Update 4/14/21: The appellate ruling 39591, which can be found here, is reposted:
You can go to the USAF Court of Criminal Appeals website for yourself. Click on the “Opinions/Orders” tab which will take you here. Enter 2019 in the “View opinions by year” box to find this page. Scroll down a ways to find the Hughes Jr case. Update: You can also search for docket #39591.
Is that conviction considered a felony?
I think the answer is yes.
This article says a conviction from a general court martial is usually a felony if the potential sentence is more than one year. Since the potential penalty for desertion is five years, this conviction qualifies.
This article says a conviction from summary court martial equivalent to a misdemeanor. Special court martial conviction would usually be considered a felony, while a general court martial conviction would almost always be a felony according to the attorney who writes the blog. The main exception would be if the charges were unique to the military, such as disrespect toward superior officer or failure to report.
Several other articles say the same thing.
I checked Public Data, an online site which can be used for background research. Neither of his names show up with a criminal record. I’ve read that for a number of years the military has not always done a good job of getting convictions into criminal data bases.
He is not listed in the Bureau of Prisons database, but I would not expect to see him there.
There are five visible punishments and consequence for this disgraced former officer who deserted his post:
- Discharge from Air Force – The appeal order does not specify what level of discharge he earned. Specifically not mentioned is general or bad conduct. Noticed that on a few other rulings listed on the Court’s page. I do hope it was something below honorable. Doubt he cares about that.
- Reprimand – Seriously doubt he cares about that.
- Prison – 45 days – That is something he probably cares about. A month and a half in military prison is significant. Not quite in the ‘club fed’ category so it was rather unpleasant. A moderate, albeit low, penalty for a middle class person.
- Felony conviction – Articles above and my previous knowledge indicate he is now a convicted felony. That has some life-long consequence. In California it will cost you any professional licensing you may have. Lots of direct ripple effects from this. Lots more collateral consequences.
- Reputation – He is now a branded deserter who by his own admission deserted because he just didn’t feel like doing his duty. Public search on either of his names, William H. Hughes, Jr. or Barry “Tim” O’Beirne, will produce lots of links, which will last for decades.
Not a particularly strong set of punishments, but I suppose reasonable for what he did, although I and most of my colleagues from my days on active duty would have preferred something involving rusty razor blades and, well, um, never mind. A brand on his forehead or chest was obviously out of the question since that is an Army thing and has been out of use for a long time.
I guess forty-five days in prison and a felony conviction will have to suffice. (Update 4/14/21: Not that my opinion counts for anything.)