Ron Gillette: An Air Force Man Who Didn’t Exactly Aim High

Q&A with defense lawyer Mark F. Renner
(Forensic Files “Strong Impressions”)

Ron Gillette tried to kill his wife with sleeping pills dissolved in an alcoholic drink and, when that failed, suffocated her by pressing her face onto a plastic bag on August 28, 1984.

Juana “Vicki” Gillette had two small children

To make it look like as though Juana “Vicki” Gillette died when she accidentally rolled onto a laundry bag in her sleep, he put some clothing in the bag and placed his sleeping 3-year-old son in bed with Ms. Gillette’s body.

He did it for $27,000 in insurance money – used to finance a wedding to his girlfriend 11 days after the death of Ms. Gillette at age 26. Although the show never touched on other motives, it’s safe to assume he wanted to avoid the child support payments a divorce would bring.

I imagine that anyone who’s seen the Forensic Files episode “Strong Impressions” would be happy to let loose all manner of name-calling and cursing to Hades in the general direction of the former Las Vegas, Nevada, Air Force mechanic.

Mark F. Renner during his appearance on "Forensic Files"
Former defense attorney Mark F. Renner during his appearance on “Forensic Files” in 2005

But we already know Ron Gillette’s actions were awful. To offer insight into some of the related issues — like how an individual convicted of murder managed to exit prison for good behavior after just 15 years — I turned to Mark F. Renner, who was tasked with defending the ex-military man in 1985. A former JAG attorney who left the military and is now a magistrate of Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis, Renner agreed to answer a few questions.

Were you surprised Gillette got out of prison so soon?
Yes. I got a Christmas card from him and the return address wasn’t Leavenworth, and that’s how I found out.

I thought he would have to serve at least another five years before being considered for parole.

How did this happen? The show said he got life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to the ACLU website, no one sentenced to life without parole has ever been paroled.
When he was sentenced, it was simply life, not life without parole. Then the Uniform Code of Military Justice — the bible of discipline for all military branches, not just the Air Force — changed some of the rules, which ultimately applied positively to Ron’s case.

Ronald Gillette
Ron Gillette resumed life with his second wife once he left prison

As one of his defense lawyers, did you really believe he was innocent?
I never thought he was innocent. No lawyer approaches a defense having to believe someone’s innocent. What you’re doing is compelling the government to establish its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The death penalty was on the table, so our real focus was defending him from that.

What about the brutal assault that injured Vicki Gillette’s legs? (Ron Gillette admitted that, 18 months before her death, he had broken both her kneecaps in a fit of anger.) At least one web commenter felt he deserved 15 years for that crime alone.
He was never charged with anything in respect to the battery. He was charged with murder and faced a possible death penalty.

Did it surprise you when Gillette married another woman 11 days after Vicki Gillette died?
Yes, and it’s unlikely the government would have ever investigated the case as a murder if he had not remarried and brought his new wife back to George Air Force Base. The original cause of death was linked to possible alcohol and accidental drug intake. At first, they had not determined the suffocation and homicide.

I’m a big fan of Forensic Files. Did working on the episode about Vicki Gillette’s murder leave you with a favorable impression of the way Forensic Files creates its stories?
I found the part I had very appropriate, and I thought their efforts to be thorough were great. They wanted facts and information, and I appreciated that they didn’t try to dramatize or minimize anything.♣

Next: Steven Weisbart of the Insurance Information Institute explains why it’s not so easy to profit by a murder plan.

23 thoughts on “Ron Gillette: An Air Force Man Who Didn’t Exactly Aim High”

  1. I loved this!
    I hadn’t been familiar with the show, but now I wish I were. But the blog may be even more riveting.
    So the moral I take away from the Q&A is: A “Columbo”-level criminal mastermind may not get away with murder, but a mind-boggling series of jaw-droppingly idiotic proportions is pretty much guaranteed not to. As I understand it, he shattered his wife’s knees, tries to pharmaceutically dispatch his wife, then *presses her face* into a plastic bag, then marries his girlfriend 11 days after her “mysterious” death and brings her to his air force base? What could go wrong?
    I don’t admire his conscience, and I don’t admire his intelligence, but that self-confidence! The man could give a course at the Learning Annex.
    Thank you for this terrific addition to my must-read list!

    1. Thanks much for the kind words, Kirk! As novelist Louis L’Amour wrote in Passin’ Through (Bantam, 1985):

      “Most criminals are optimists. They have to be. They have to believe in their projects and they convince themselves that everyone else is stupid. Why else would someone risk several years in prison for a few dollars?”

      Rebecca R.

  2. I just saw this story and I can’t believe he only got 15yrs!!! Then for the current wife to stick around and take him back. But, wait she has a vested interest in him. Without spelling it out.

  3. It’s unbelievable that a scumbag like that got out of prison for “Good Behavior”!!?? Well, criminals, kill all you want to. Matter of fact, kill your wife and take your 3-yr-old son, place him next to his dead mother in bed where you just killed her. Marry another women in less than 2 weeks after you commit the murder, collect her life insurance. And then sit back and don’t worry about a thing. Because if you behave nicely, they will just let you walk right out of jail! Yeah! No kidding! Glad scumbags always seem to get a second chance. Too bad the precious life you took who was someone’s mother, sister, friend, and daughter will never get that opportunity. What a great justice system we have!

        1. Amen. The 1st wife, Vicki, was a beautiful woman who seemed to have a beautiful, friendly personality. Ron was ugly on the inside (“mean” or “cruel”) and there’s an old saying that goes like this: “If you’re ugly on the inside, you’re ugly on the outside.”

      1. I wonder what kind of person would say this in the comment section. All you confirmed is that men like him or people like him are out there ready to strike. People who like you are born cowards.

      2. *Goodforhim
        You’re a scumbag troll aren’t you? Hopefully, someone will murder you so we won’t have to read your disgusting comments anymore.

      3. You are disgusting! Have you ever heard of divorce? No one has a right to murder their wife/husband because they stopped loving them. He just wanted to avoid paying alimony and child support. He murdered her to get $27k in life insurance to pay for the wedding to his new wife just two weeks after his wife was murdered!

    1. I agree this upsets me so much. I can’t believe they would allow him to walk after good behavior? As if he just got a time-out! Let him comtionue to raise his son after all that?? And the new wife is ok with this? Wow is all I have!

  4. It would be very interesting if someone video-blogged or wrote about the life of this man and his family and people who surround them. How do you go on about your business just like: peachy????

  5. Me and my family were stationed at the same air force base that that ron and juana were. My mom and juana were good friends which my mom used to baby sit their little girl and little boy.. this is something that me and my family were never able to forget. The one thing that these babies didn’t get was justice for their mom and that really broke our hearts.

  6. The decision comes a decade, almost to the day, since Witt stabbed to death Senior Airman Andrew Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, in their home on Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

  7. What a travesty of justice — a disgrace — that he was imprisoned for only 15 years for murder. ‘Life’ may not mean life — but in this case it meant far too little: less than 20% of an average man’s life. What a slap in the face for her loved ones. Cases such as this discredit the justice system.

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