Who was Dwight J. Loving?

Introduction

Dwight Jeffrey Loving (born c. 1968) was one of six military personnel on death row until President Barack Obama commuted his sentence to life without parole on 17 January 2017.

Loving, a private in the United States Army, was sentenced to death following his conviction for murdering two military soldiers, working as part-time taxi drivers on 12 December 1988. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, at the time of the murders.

Murders and Arrest

Dwight Jeffrey Loving was a native of Rochester, New York, born c. 1968. He was an Army Private First Class stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. On the night of 11 December 1988, he committed two armed robberies of convenience stores, netting less than $100. He then decided to rob some cab drivers. On 12 December, during the course of those robberies, Loving murdered two taxicab drivers and attempted to murder a third.

The court-martial evidence, which included Loving’s undisputed videotaped confession, established that the first robbery and murder victim, Private Christopher Fay, was an active duty soldier working for extra money as a cab driver; at approximately 8:00 pm on 12 December, Fay drove Loving from Killeen, Texas, to a secluded area of Fort Hood, where Loving robbed him at gunpoint; after taking Fay’s money, Loving shot Fay in the back of the head; while watching blood “gushing out” of Fay’s head, Loving shot him in the back of the head a second time. Fay’s dead body was discovered by another soldier at Fort Hood a short while later.

Loving, after fleeing to his Fort Hood barracks, called for a second cab at 8:15 pm that same evening. The second cab, driven by retired Army Sergeant Bobby Sharbino, drove Loving from Fort Hood to a secluded street in Killeen. Loving then robbed Sharbino at gunpoint, ordered him to lie down on the seat, and murdered him by shooting him in the head.

After the second murder, Loving socialised with his Italian girlfriend and others at local nightclubs. Later that evening, he robbed and attempted to murder a third cab driver, Howard Harrison, who successfully defended himself. Loving escaped on foot.

The next day, a Joint Task Force composed of FBI, Texas Rangers and the US Army Criminal Investigation Division (USACIDC) agents pursued Loving. Army special agents arrested him and videotaped his confession. He reviewed the tape and signed a transcript of his confession.

Trial, Sentence, Appeals, and Commutation

He was convicted at a court martial held at Ft. Hood in March 1989. He was found guilty on 03 April 1989. He made several attempts to have his sentence invalidated.

The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of his death sentence on 03 June 1996, in a decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Loving’s attorneys had contended that the doctrine of separation of powers allowed only Congress rather than the President to define the “aggravating factors” that weighed in his sentencing.

He lost a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court in 2001. The lack of executions in the intervening decades was due to a Supreme Court decision in 1969 had held that the military did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed off-post by military personnel. The Supreme Court’s reversal of that decision in 1987 made the possibility of military death sentences more likely (The 1969 decision was O’Callahan v. Parker and the 1987 reversal was Solorio v. United States).

As they had in 1996, attorneys from the Cornell University Law School’s Death Penalty Project were seeking further Supreme Court review of his case in November 2009, following his failure to persuade the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that he had lacked adequate representation during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Loving was not executed because neither President George W. Bush nor President Barack Obama authorised his execution. According to the New York Times, “Military executions require presidential approval”.

On 17 January 2017, three days before leaving office, President Obama commuted Loving’s death sentence to life imprisonment without parole.

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