The Aviano Trial: Military Pilots Out-of-Control or a Tragic Accident?
In February 1998, Marine pilot Capt. Richard Ashby flew his EA6-B electronic counter-measures jet on a low-level training flight through the Italian Alps. Just sky of Cavelese, his jet severed a ski gondola cable crossing the valley sending 20 multi-national tourists plunging to their deaths on the ski slopes 365 feet below. Though his jet was seriously damaged, Captain Ashby managed to land it safely at the Italian Air force Base in Aviano, Italy.
One year later, Captain Ashby's trial by court martial began. He was charged with 20 courts of involuntary manslaughter and various other counts involving the destruction of military and civilian property. After 5 weeks and more than $2 million dollars of government trials costs, he was acquitted of all charges by a military jury, a verdict that was covered by more news outlets world-wide than the O.J. Simpson acquittal. The fall-out from this verdict strained U.S.-Italian diplomatic relations and -- many commentators believe -- eventually led to the early release from U.S. prisons of convicted Italian terrorists.
The lead military counsel for the defense of Captain Ashby, then-Major Bill Weber, joined the UGA law school faculty as the Director of Advocacy [in Fall 1999]. On March 31, a team of law students led by Mr. Weber will tell the story of this trial from the actual trial exhibits and re-enacting crucial examinations and cross-examinations using transcripts. It is the story of a military trial conducted in the midst of a media feeding-frenzy, of a prosecution driven by concerns outside the courtroom, and of a successful defense masterminded by a civilian attorney who seemed to know what the military jury needed to hear even more so than the Marines conducting the prosecution.
Weber, William H. IV, "The Aviano Trial: Military Pilots Out-of-Control or a Tragic Accident?" (2000). Law Day Lectures. Paper 31.