LITTLE ROCK -- An Arkansas Army National Guard warrant officer who was court-martialed on charges including sexual assault in Oklahoma had his conviction overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday along jurisdictional grounds.
By a 6-1 ruling, the high court found Chief Warrant Officer 4 Adam Childers, a helicopter pilot, wasn't on duty the night of the alleged crime in Norman, Okla., and thus the military tribunal didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case.
Childers pleaded guilty to charges of cruelty and maltreatment and of failure to obey order or regulation at his court-martial in 2018, as part of an agreement in which prosecutors agreed to drop charges of sexual misconduct, to which Childers had pleaded not guilty, according to court records.
As part of the plea agreement, Childers reserved his right to appeal. His punishment -- dismissal from the guard and a 180-day confinement -- was suspended during his appeal to the state courts, said his attorney, Nathan Freeburg.
Childers remains a member of the Arkansas National Guard on voluntary nondrilling status, according to a spokesman.
"The [Supreme Court] opinion has no impact on the military judge's determination of guilt as to Specification II of Charge III for Failure to Obey Order or Regulation," Lt. Col. Brian Mason, the guard's spokesman, said Thursday. "A resentencing hearing on this specification should take place at a later date."
Justice Josephine "Jo" Hart -- herself a former Army lawyer -- wrote the court's majority opinion, which rested largely on the facts of the day in question to determine when Childers was on and off duty.
According to the court record, Childers and two other National Guard soldiers drove from Camp Robinson to Norman on Dec. 12, 2016, to attend an aviation safety conference the next day. During the car ride, Childers was on inactive duty and flight-training status, which ended when he arrived at the conference about 6 p.m.
The alleged assault, which involved a subordinate, occurred later in the evening, after dinner, when Childers was off duty, according to the court's opinion.
"Whether or not a servicemember is in a duty status is a line that should not be blurred," Hart wrote in her opinion, later adding, "The lack of a duty status means there was no court-martial jurisdiction for those offenses."
Freeburg, Childers' attorney, praised the court's ruling, saying Arkansas wouldn't otherwise have had jurisdiction over the out-of-state incident had it not involved a guard member.
"We've known all along that was the case," Freeburg said. "It's sad that the trial judge didn't follow the law all along but we're glad the Supreme Court did."
Hart's decision was joined by Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Hudson, Robin Wynne and Rhonda Wood.
Justice Shawn Womack, in a concurring opinion, reached a different conclusion than Hart regarding the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, but otherwise agreed with her analysis.
In a lone dissent, Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote he didn't believe the Arkansas Supreme Court had jurisdiction to hear an appeal from a guilty plea.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who represented the state on appeal, said Thursday she was reviewing her options.
Freeburg, the attorney, said he wasn't aware of an investigation into the case by officials in Oklahoma.