OMAHA -- After Airman 1st Class Timothy Wilsey fled the scene of a murder he had committed at Offutt Air Force Base, he wrote in his journal that he might kill again.
On the evening of July 29, 2016, Wilsey had befriended Airman 1st Class Rhianda Dillard, 20, then strangled her in her Offutt dormitory and left her dead on her bed. He fled in his red Ford Focus, but he knew the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations would be looking for him. While stopped at a highway rest area, he wrote in his journal that he was thinking about killing someone to get a car, or the license plates off of a car.
That portion of Wilsey’s detailed journal, describing Dillard’s murder and the days that followed until his apprehension at a hotel in Emporia, Virginia, 13 days later, had not previously been admitted in court. But the prosecutor, Maj. Megan Ortner, argued Friday that it should be considered by Col. Vance Spath, the Air Force trial judge who is presiding over Wilsey’s court-martial.
“It shows the aggravation that is going on in his mind,” Ortner said.
Maj. Elijah Brown, the lead defense attorney, argued that some of Wilsey’s journal entries are “simply musings, thoughts, about committing other acts.”
Wilsey pleaded guilty Thursday to the premeditated murder of Dillard as well as desertion. He decided against a trial by a jury of senior officers and enlisted personnel, so Spath will determine the airman’s sentence. The maximum sentence is life in prison with no possibility of parole. The minimum sentence is still life in prison, but with the possibility of parole. Spath said he will decide Monday whether to admit the journal entry as evidence.
Lt. Col. Richard Schermer, Wilsey’s commanding officer at the 55th Intelligence Support Squadron, said he had breakfast with Wilsey hours before Dillard was killed. The breakfast was part of a program for the unit’s senior leaders to meet airmen who are new to the unit. He was impressed with the airman’s attitude, and astonished when he later read his journal account of what he had done.
“It’s very chilling,” Schermer said. “None of the interactions at that breakfast would have indicated what was to come.”
Rhianda Dillard’s father, Michael Dillard, and her brother, Airman 1st Class Michael Dillard Jr., described her childhood and life growing up in southern Mississippi.
Dillard Sr. recalled teaching her to swim and fish, and said she was nicknamed “Cookie Monster” as a little girl because she loved cookies, especially Oreos. Dillard Jr. said he was about a year younger than his sister, and they often competed in academic and athletic activities while growing up. They were often mistaken for twins. He entered boot camp just three days before she was killed.
It took several months for the medical examiner to determine that Rhianda Dillard’s death was a homicide.
“I was devastated, filled with rage,” Dillard Jr. said.
Bill Lewis, now a civilian worker at the 55th Wing, was Rhianda Dillard’s supervisor at the 55th Strategic Communications Squadron. The unit’s job is highly sensitive, he said, and involves the handling of nuclear targets. He described her as quiet, highly competent, and the best of about 50 airmen he has trained in the job over several years.
“It was her meticulous attention to detail,” he said. “She was top of the list, number one.”
Dr. Jamie Downs, an expert in forensic pathology, said the injuries described in her autopsy were consistent with the account in Wilsey’s journal of how Dillard died. He described putting her in a sleeper hold with his right arm, then his left, sitting on her, and strangling her with his hands.
Elizabeth Dillard left the courtroom when Downs described her daughter’s last moments as she struggled in Wilsey’s grasp.
“When he was talking about how she was fighting — that hit me,” she said later.
She also said she was stunned to learn he had written in his journal about possibly killing other people.
“I’m glad they got him before he did anything to anyone else’s family,” she said.