A charge of desertion has been levied against Tech. Sgt. David Helm, who is assigned to the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Scott Air Force Base. Helm went missing June 5, three days before the scheduled start of a court martial, according to the base public affairs office.
Helm, 35, was apprehended in Nevada 10 days ago and returned to Scott AFB where he is now being held in pre-trial confinement. The Air Force will proceed with a preliminary hearing under Article 32, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, regarding specifics to the desertion charge.
Helm vanished before he was set to face a court-martial at Scott for sexual abuse charges against two people, including a young girl. Helm had told friends in the days before his disappearance that he was headed to LaFollette, Tenn. to visit family.
In fact, Helm drove his Yamaha motorcycle to Nevada to tick off items from a personal “bucket list” that included skydiving and driving a high-performance sports car in Las Vegas. A Nevada Highway Patrol officer arrested Helm on the evening of June 8 outside Reno after stopping the fugitive for a broken motorcycle tail light.
An Article 32 hearing is similar to a grand jury hearing in civilian law. The date of this hearing is yet to be determined.
Desertion is one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against a member of the U.S. military. If the military member deserts during a time of war and to avoid hazardous or important duty, then he or she could in theory face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
However, since the Civil War, just one American service member has ever been executed for desertion — Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.
More typically, according to military legal experts, if the military member deserted and the desertion was terminated by apprehension, as was the case with Helm, the punishment could add up to a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 3 years.
Helm is also facing four separate charges of assault by battery, sexual assault of a minor, sexual assault by causing bodily harm, and indecent broadcasting/filming of a person without consent.
After the preliminary hearing, Air Force officials will determine whether to refer the charges to a general court-martial. If the charges are referred, a new court date will be set.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.