Closing arguments expected in Air Force sex scandal trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 19, 2012 9:37 PM
Closing arguments expected in Air Force sex scandal trial

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Both military prosecutors and defense attorneys rested their cases on Thursday in a trial against a drill instructor accused of serial sexual assault of women during U.S. Air Force basic training in Texas, in the first court-martial of a widening military sex scandal.

Air Force basic training instructor Staff Sergeant Luis Walker is accused of 28 counts, including rape and attempted assault, for allegedly having inappropriate sexual relationships with 10 women.

The defense called only one witness, Technical Sergeant Richard Capestro, who said there was too much surveillance on the military base for the alleged rapes to go unnoticed.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday. Walker could face life in prison and dishonorable discharge if convicted on all counts.

All 10 women testified against Walker this week, including one woman who testified via video hookup because she just had a baby. Prosecutors have not said whether the baby was fathered by Walker.

The scandal at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, where all Air Force basic training is conducted, has grown to the worst in the U.S. military since 1996.

Walker is the first of seven instructors referred for court-martial. Five others are formally under investigation and 35 more instructors have been taken off active duty while accusations are looked into. Thirty-one female trainees have told investigators of inappropriate behavior.

At the court-martial of Walker this week, the stories told by the 10 women he allegedly abused were similar. They testified that their relationship with Walker began positively, when he counseled or encouraged them as they struggled to complete the rigorous 8-1/2 week basic training course.

But that attention quickly turned sexual, they testified, when Walker began sending them flirtatious e-mails and text messages, began hugging and kissing them, and, in four cases, they said Walker cajoled them into a sexual relationship, frequently by advising the women of his ability to derail their military careers.

"One of the witnesses, Victim No. 1, discussed the time during basic training when she contends that Walker had sexual relations with her in the basic training flight office," said Brent Boller, a spokesman for Joint Base San Antonio.

"Another witness has been discussing suggestive text messages sent to her by Staff Sergeant Walker."

Defense attorneys have said that all 10 of the victims only testified against Walker after they had been approached by investigators.

The defense won a procedural victory on Thursday when the military court ruled that a photograph of a bare-chested Walker wearing boxers and his military training hat and allegedly sent to one trainee, could not be entered into evidence.

A seven-member military jury will decide his fate by a two-thirds vote. In civilian court, juries must reach a unanimous verdict.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)