Judge Rules Air Force Must Pay $230M to Massacre Victims

Judge had previously ruled military branch was 60% responsible for Sutherland Springs church shooting
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2021 1:40 PM CDT
Updated Feb 8, 2022 10:54 AM CST
Judge: Air Force Was 60% Responsible for Mass Shooting
In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo, a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church includes 26 white chairs, each painted with a cross and and rose and placed in the sanctuary, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(Newser) Update: The gunman who shot up a Texas church in 2017, killing 26 and injuring 22, is no longer alive to pay any kind of restitution to his victims or their loved ones. But on Monday, Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the US government is now on the hook for $230 million, to be paid to survivors of the Sutherland Springs massacre and their family members, reports NPR. In his 185-page ruling, Rodriguez reiterated that the Air Force failed to report gunman Devin Kelley's 2012 conviction for domestic violence, which Rodriguez says may have prevented the 2017 mass shooting. The judge laid out how much around 80 victims and family members would receive, with the largest single amount set at $7 million, per the New York Times. Our original story from July 2021 follows:

In 2012, a court-martial found then-Airman Devin Kelley guilty of assaulting his wife and toddler stepson; he was sentenced to year in a military prison. But the Air Force failed to enter his criminal history into a federal database used for background checks for gun buyers—and five years later, he carried out the worst mass shooting in Texas history. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the failure made the Air Force 60% responsible for the Sutherland Springs church shooting, which killed 26 people, including young children, the Wall Street Journal reports. If Kelley's name had been in the database, he would have been unable to buy the rifle used on Nov. 5, 2017, though the Air Force argued that he would have found another way to obtain firearms even if he had been in the database.

Kelley, 26, escaped from a psychiatric hospital while awaiting a court-martial in 2012. He received a bad-conduct discharge in 2014. He took his own life after the mass shooting, which also injured 20 people. Wednesday's ruling followed a civil lawsuit from survivors and victims' families. "The trial conclusively established that no other individual—not even Kelley's own parents or partners—knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing," said US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez. The judge called for another trial to assess monetary damages owed to the families, the AP reports. Last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the families couldn't sue the store that sold Kelley the rifle, reports the Texas Tribune. (Read more mass shootings stories.)

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