Watch CBS News

Texas church shooting: How was Devin Patrick Kelley discharged from the Air Force?

Sheriff on Texas church shooting
Texas church shooting suspect had self-inflicted gun wound, sheriff says 02:48

As details about the man who shot dozens, killing at least 26 in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church Sunday emerge, initial reports coming from the small town about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio claimed the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had been dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. In fact, Kelley, who served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 to 2014, received a bad conduct discharge, according Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek. 

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of assault on his then-wife and assault on their child, Stefanek said. In addition to the bad conduct discharge, Kelley also received a reduction in rank and confinement for 12 months.

Col. Don Christensen, a retired Air Force chief prosecutor whose office prosecuted Kelley, told CBS News 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 his wife and stepson, Christensen said.

Search for motive behind Texas church shooting 07:32

The Air Force tells CBS News Kelley's case was a general court martial, the most serious level of military trial proceedings, reserved for allegations similar to felonies in civilian jurisdictions. 

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

The use of a general court martial, as opposed to the less serious special court martial, is a sign that the initial charges against Kelley carried the potential for both dishonorable discharge and more than a year in confinement, said Benjamin Spencer, a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia who currently serves as a reserve officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the U.S. Army.

"They key difference between dishonorable discharge and bad conduct, as kind of a rule of thumb, is that a bad conduct discharge is for behavior that rises to the level of a misdemeanor, and a dishonorable discharge rises to the level of a felony," Spencer told CBS News on Monday. "The place where this gets relevant to something like firearms is that a dishonorable discharge gets treated like a felony conviction."

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 prohibit those with domestic violence convictions from owning firearm. 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. It is unclear if the FBI was notified about Kelley's case, which fit both conditions.

Kelley did not have a license to carry firearms, Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Freeman Martin said Monday. However he did undergo a criminal background check through the department in order to obtain a license for a position as an unarmed security guard, and was cleared, Martin said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.