A would-be serial killer who strangled a woman at Offutt Air Force Base in 2016 may someday have a chance at freedom — but probably not for a very long time, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Airman 1st Class Timothy Wilsey pleaded guilty last Thursday to premeditated murder for the killing of Airman 1st Class Rhianda Dillard, 20, as the two watched television in her Offutt dorm room July 29, 2016. He also admitted to deserting his Air Force unit, the 55th Intelligence Support Squadron.

In the 13 days before he was captured, he kept a journal in which he vividly described Dillard’s murder and plotted to kill others. In one entry he described himself as “a sociopath” and “homicidal.”

Following a court-martial that stretched over five days, Col. Vance Spath, a military judge, determined that Wilsey should receive life in prison with no possibility of parole. However, because of a pretrial agreement with his command, the 26th Air Force, the 21-year-old airman from Valdosta, Georgia, will be eligible for parole sometime in the future.

Wilsey also received a reprimand and reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, forfeits all future pay and allowances, and is to be dishonorably discharged.

Prosecutors said it will likely be “decades” before a parole board even considers releasing him.

“You’re going to walk out of here with many of the same questions you came here with,” Spath told spectators in the courtroom, which included family members and former co-workers of Dillard’s and Wilsey’s. “This will provide whatever closure it does. But closure and justice are two different things.”

Bill Lewis, who supervised Dillard at the 55th Strategic Communications Squadron, testified that Dillard was the best among about 50 young airmen he had trained in his years with the unit. He testified that she had a high aptitude for handling complex, sometimes dull assignments.

After the sentencing, Lewis said he is confident that Wilsey won’t be free anytime soon.

“I think the parole board will see that he’s not fit to walk around,” Lewis said.

Senior Airman Nathan Fuller was Dillard’s friend during training school in Mississippi and in the squadron at Offutt. He lived three rooms down from her at Offutt’s Turner Hall. They often went to the zoo, movies or the mall together.

“Now you can close the chapter of the book. This whole thing’s done, and we can put it behind,” Fuller said.

Dillard’s family — her mother, Elizabeth; father, Michael Dillard Sr.; brother, Airman 1st Class Michael Dillard Jr.; and 13-year-old sister Jennifer — sat through the court-martial proceedings at the Roman L. Hruska Federal Courthouse in downtown Omaha.

Elizabeth Dillard testified about her daughter’s upbringing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as the mixed-race child of a single mother who had two children before she was 18. She said Rhianda and Michael Jr., often mistaken for twins, were top students. Despite graduating at the top her class, she postponed college to join the Air Force, in part so she could help support her family.

Elizabeth Dillard said the Air Force had made her high-achieving daughter more outgoing and self-confident. She was devastated after learning Rhianda had died, and distraught that she had been killed by a fellow Offutt airman. She said she had to quit her job, and she finds solace only when she goes fishing, by herself.

The family listened quietly as prosecutors read from Wilsey’s disturbing journal, including his statement that he chose Rhianda as his victim because she seemed alone and friendless, like someone “who wouldn’t be missed.”

They exchanged phone numbers after meeting at a basketball game, and he pretended he wanted to date her. When Wilsey slipped his arm around her neck to kill her, prosecutors said, she probably thought she was about to get her first kiss.

He also graphically described unfulfilled plots to kill other people: a motorist at a Walmart whose car he wanted to steal; members of his church; and members of his training unit at Air Force boot camp. He said he hoped to become a hit man for a drug gang.

Elizabeth Dillard said she was content with the verdict.

“I don’t have the closure, but I have justice,” she said.

Despite the possibility of parole, she said she’s determined to be there if a parole board ever considers releasing Wilsey.

“I’m going to testify every time,” she said. “As long as I’m alive, he won’t be getting out.”

A previous version of this story misidentified Dillard's squadron.

Steve is the military affairs reporter for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @SteveLiewer. Phone: 402-444-1186.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.