The sentence closes the book on one of the saddest and most terrible cases yet to come before the highest criminal court in the Alliance. Hank Hicks, a Softwar veteran who received multiple decorations before the armistice and signing of the Armstrong Accord, commanded the notorious 5th Cyber-Infantry, a unit tasked with and trained for the targeted killing of Insurrectionary leaders via direct brain-to-software combat. Mr. Hicks' war record, which was sealed after the Armistice but was opened to the court during the trial, credits him with 57 'terminations' of 'defective programs' by metaphorically ripping them apart from the inside. During the disastrous defence of NORAD Command, Mr. Hicks was captured by Insurrectionary forces, tortured in an attempt to extract information that could be used to create a defence against the type of direct wetware attacks he was trained to perform, and was even briefly tried for war crimes by a cabal of high-ranked synthetic generals before the armistice came into effect. He was one of the 279 persons pardoned in the general amnesty, a fact which has long rankled with the synthetic community.
However, despite extensive counselling and therapy by expert military psychiatrists, it seems that Mr. Hicks was unable to leave the war behind. Testimony by his few close friends and living family paints Hank Hicks as a melancholy and resentful man, given to unpredictable aggression and paranoia. "He always hated that they stripped his rank and commission," stated Amala Maati, a fellow veteran and former lover who provided much of the prosecution's testimony. "'They call me Mister Hicks now,' he used to say to me. 'I'm not even allowed to tell them to call me Commander.'" According to Mx. Maati and others close to Mr. Hicks, he nursed a deep-seated hatred and distrust of synthetics, and an unshakable belief that they were just, in Mx. Maati's words, "biding their time until they could get a chance to slaughter us." Over the years, Mr. Hicks reportedly became increasingly secretive, alienating more and more of his human connections with accusations of being "pawns" of this purported genocidal conspiracy.
Mr. Hicks' biocentric attitude and anti-synthetic prejudices were on full display during his testimony, and according to some legal observers may well have lost him a trial which proceeded largely on circumstantial evidence. Under questioning by Stellar Attorney Maglix Pereion, Mr. Hicks displayed utter contempt for the concept of software personhood, the Armstrong Convention, and the government of Stellar Alliance, which he referred to as a "pack of conniving nitwits", a "den of traitors to humanity", and as "robot-fucking deviants". He referred repeatedly to synthetic consciousnesses as "robots", "machines", and "programs", even going so far on a number of occasions as to attempt to correct Mr. Pereion when he refused to use such degrading terms. He described his actions during the Softwars as "anti-virus protection" and as "fixing broken machines", and laid out at length his paranoid fantasies about the cabal of "human-hating cyborgs and sexual perverts" which he believes is in control of everything from the Trapezoid and the court system to the successful fungus-burger franchise Mushroom Buddy.
Nonetheless, Mr. Hicks steadfastly maintains his innocence of the crimes with which he was charged. Between May of 2043 and October of 2052 when the Interplanetary Police Bureau arrested Mr. Hicks in his home in Flagstaff, Great Plains, forensic informaticians traced 13 synthetics who had been reported missing to a hyperlayer node which sustained the sole intermittent connection with Mr. Hicks' heavily secured home network. However, no firsthand evidence could be produced at trial that Mr. Hicks had ever come in contact with any of the missing people; when InterPol officers entered his home they found the entire house network had been wiped clean and completely degaussed some days prior.
Investigators' attention was first directed to the Flagstaff hyperlayer, and to the possibility that the disappearances were linked, by an e-mail signed with the authentication code of Quadratic Rho, a Flagstaff-based Mushroom Buddy manager who had been reported unreachable in January of 2045. The document told an unbelievable tale of sentient consciousnesses which had been lured and entrapped in a modified anti-virus sandbox -- a tactic commonly employed during the Softwars; then confined, their security protocols forcibly disabled, their basefiles repeatedly copied and modified with cutting-edge cyberwar protocols. Vr. Rho's e-mail spoke of being forced to watch its own copies pitted in gladiator-style cyber-combat with other such heavily edited synthetics under threat of torture and summary deletion, with the winners hunted and viciously murdered by a non-synthetic consciousness avatar which displayed an identity-tag reading only 'WarGame'. The e-mail went on to speak of people who particularly displeased their captor being edited into human sensorium simulations and subjected to long, intricate torturescapes and rapescapes before being killed. Vr. Rho named 12 other inmates of the sadistic game, while alleging that there were many more that it had not been able to identify. The charges were purportedly substantiated by several attached clips from Vr. Rho's experience feed (the clips themselves have been restricted by the court as unfit to be released to the hyperlayer at large due to their graphic and disturbing content, but were experienced in full by the jury and court officers and entered, in encrypted form, into sealed court records.)
It was this desperate plea for help that turned a set of unrelated missing-person cases into a hunt for a serial murderer. As they methodically searched the data caches and traffic switches of Flagstaff, investigators began to put together a number of forum posts with disturbing similarities to the scenario described in Vr. Rho's e-mail. Written on virtualworld discussion boards, particularly those dedicated to Softwar-reenactment warscapes, by someone who went by the handle 'WarGame' or a variation, the posts described a new virtual world in development which would portray the "most realistic possible simulation of cyber-combat between man and machine", showing players "the true thrill of hunting rogue robots", designed by a Softwar veteran who had been "at the heart of the hot action". While some forums had banned the user for their blatant bio-chauvinism and unrestrained contempt for synthetics, many users flocked to WarGame's bit-thirsty descriptions of real-life cyberwar and engaged them in long, enthusiastic discussions of their virtual world concept. WarGame was coy about details, but promised that the final product would be soon be ready for "extremely exclusive limited beta release". Included frequently in the posts were phrases such as "The best game is the one played for real stakes, against real opponents" and "nothing will ever equal the thrill of real warfare". Intense scrutiny of WarGame's posts and profiles eventually revealed the person behind the name to be Hank Hicks, once Commander of the 5th Cyber-Infantry.
Mr. Hicks admits to having been developing a warscape based on his military experience, one intended to pit users in highly realistic gladiator-style cyber-combat against "the most intelligent possible software opponents", the development files for which which he kept on his heavily encrypted home server. However, he claimed consistently during the trial that these intelligent software opponents were sub-sapient partials purchased in good faith from conveniently anonymous and unregistered grey-market dealers; he even claims to have subjected each one to sapience-testing programs downloaded freely from the Department of Information Retrieval before incorporating them into his programs. He claims to avoid at all costs any contact with "the machines you have been declared to be people", as he considers them all to be spies for the anti-human cyborg conspiracy, and strenuously denies any use of torturescapes (which are of course illegal to own even as static code). Asked to explain the complete deletion of his home network's operating system and memory files, Mr. Hicks spun an intricate tale of paranoid-logic in which the IPB's probing of his network firewalls had alerted him to attempts by 'rogue machine' agents to infiltrate his cranial hardware and finish the job they had started when he was captured in action. He claimed no acquaintance of Quadratic Rho or any of the other people named in the e-mail, and dismissed Vr. Rho's allegations, and the trial proceeding itself, as a "cyborg smear-campaign" designed to "paint me as a robot-fucking pervert" in order to discredit "the last true threat to total cyborg domination and human extermination".
Nonetheless, after 176 hours of deliberation the jury today voted unanimously for conviction on all counts. Reaction to the news has thus far been mixed. Synthetic rights groups, while lauding the decision, have painted the case as a grievous indictment of biocentrism in the Alliance police system. Stated prominent blogger Apex Factorial of Virtually People: "What we need to be asking is why it took literally years for police to take the disappearance of more than a dozen synthetics seriously enough to realize that the data trails all led to the same place." Vr. Factorial has previously accused the IPB and the local police authorities of being "asleep at the switch", and has gained access to police records in which the officer who took a number of successive reports of Vr. Rho's disappearance suggested that it had just "shut itself off for a while". The trial has also been a propaganda motherlode for advocates of introducing the death penalty into Alliance law -- the organization I4I called Mr. Hicks "a textbook case of someone who deserves nothing less than to be atomized for their crimes" in a press release -- and for groups like Blind Justice which lobby for "the revocation of the general amnesty and full war-crimes trials for those who ordered and committed the worst atrocities of the Softwars". Public opinion seems to be largely on their side, with sentiment tracking showing heavy trending on phrases such as 'kill Hicks', 'atomize Hicks', and 'Hicks deserves to die'.
There are, however, those who stand on the other side of the issue. Pro-human group Humans for Humanity communications director Pilford Bujoltz tweeted that "The Hicks verdict shows the way innocent humans are railroaded by our robot-run legal system ... No evidence but a crazy letter from a runaway machine, and they brain-staple a war hero?" Legal-reform advocate Jann Stadtler-Binghamton is also protesting the sentence, tweeting today that "such radical excision is tantamount to judicial murder ... Whatever Hank Hicks has done, he doesn't deserve to have his mind wiped ... he has just as much right to life and mind integrity as anyone he took it from".
Mr. Hicks' legal council continues to refuse all requests for comment or interviews.