World War II hero gets out of jail after 8 years
BARTOW, Florida (AP) -- An 87-year-old World War II hero who has been behind bars for more than eight years for terrorizing one of his ex-wives in central Florida was sent home by a judge Tuesday, despite a prosecutor's claims that he's still a dangerous man.
Abner Aust looked anything but dangerous as he shuffled into a courtroom wearing an orange jail outfit and an elaborate hearing aid.
The highly decorated flying ace who shot down enemy fighters over Japan in the waning days of World War II, pleaded with Circuit Judge Randall McDonald to free him so he can get the help he needs for a litany of medical problems.
"I'd just like to be out, sir," the diminutive, baldheaded Aust told the judge, who sentenced him to time served for violating probation and ordered him to spend the next two years on house arrest.
"I hope I'm not making a mistake," McDonald said.
Aust was "beside himself" over finally getting out, said his attorney, Ronald Kurpiers, who had argued that the elderly man was a national hero who deserved to live the rest of his life in freedom.
Kurpiers said Aust would no longer be a threat to his ex-wife, even after being convicted in separate cases of trying to hire someone to burn her house down and have her killed.
Prosecutor Gary Allen told McDonald that Aust should go back to prison. He said he believed Aust could still arrange for harm to come to two former wives with whom he has had disagreements over money and property ownership.
"Rather than take action by himself, he solicited others to commit crimes for him," Allen reminded the judge.
Both of those former spouses attended the Tuesday hearing. Brenda Aust, the target of the failed hit and arson, was visibly agitated afterward and said she was still afraid of Aust. Another ex-wife, Doris Maddox, said she also feared for herself and her family.
"He has no remorse for anything, and it's sad," Maddox said. "He has no concern for anybody but himself."
Aust's longtime friends, Bud and Janie Nicholson, said he will live with them for now.
Aust was a 23-year-old captain from Mississippi when he flew 14 combat missions in a P-51 Mustang from the captured island of Iwo Jima to the Japanese mainland in 1945. He was credited with shooting down at least five enemy fighters and damaging three more in dogfights over Japan. The five confirmed "kills" certified him as a flying ace, one of the last of World War II.
According to the American Fighter Aces Association, Aust is one of about 250 certified World War II aces still living.
Aust, who is estranged from most of his family, went to prison for 23 months in 2000 for trying to hire someone to burn down Brenda Aust's house. While he was there, prosecutors said, he talked to a fellow inmate about hiring someone to poison her. He was convicted and got six more years.