On June 5, three days before his court martial was scheduled to begin, Tech. Sgt. David Helm went missing. Helm, 35, was set to face sexual assault charges against two people, including a minor, before he disappeared. He had told friends he planned to visit family in Tennessee, but instead drove his motorcycle to Nevada, where he skydived and test-drove a sports car in Las Vegas. After missing his court martial, Nevada Highway Patrol stopped Helm for a broken motorcycle taillight. Not only was the fugitive then arrested, but a charge of desertion was soon levied against him.
Helm has since been returned to Scott Air Force Base – where he is assigned to the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron – to be held there in pretrial confinement until his Article 32 hearing can take place. The date of the Article 32 hearing – conducted similarly to a grand jury hearing under civilian law – is yet to be determined.
Desertion is one of the most serious charges a service member can face; one convicted of desertion during a time of war could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Only one American service member, however, has been executed for desertion since the Civil War: Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.
If convicted of desertion, Helm's desertion sentence will likely range from dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay to confinement for up to 3 years.
Aside from the desertion charge, Helm faces four separate charges: assault and battery, sexual assault of a minor, sexual assault by causing bodily harm, and indecent broadcasting/filming of a person without consent.