Second Air Force trainer guilty in sex scandal, senator seeks probe

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 02, 2012 9:14 AM
Second Air Force trainer guilty in sex scandal, senator seeks probe

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A second U.S. Air Force trainer has been convicted in connection with the widening sexual misconduct scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and a U.S. senator from the state wants a full congressional probe of the matter.

Technical Sergeant Christopher Smith, 33, was found guilty late Wednesday on charges of having unprofessional relationships with two female basic trainees and faces up to a year in prison.

Three Lackland training instructors to date have either been convicted or pled guilty in connection with the largest sex scandal to hit the U.S. military since the 1990s, when accusations of sexual misconduct at the Army's Ordnance Center and School in Aberdeen, Maryland, rocked the Pentagon.

Smith's conviction comes less than two weeks after another trainer was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape or sexual assault of 10 female recruits.

A total of 38 women have come forward to claim they were victims of inappropriate conduct at the hands of their basic training instructors, and a total of 15 male sergeants have either been charged or notified they are under investigation.

In a mixed verdict, a jury found Smith guilty of seeking to develop an intimate relationship with a teenage trainee, but cleared him of charges of making sexual advances towards her. Smith was found guilty of having a personal social relationship with a second female trainee, but not guilty of obstruction of justice.

Smith was convicted by what the Uniform Code of Military Justice calls a 'special' court martial, a streamlined process allowed in cases where the maximum penalty is no more than a year in prison, the top sentence Smith faces. The sentencing phase of the trial begins Thursday.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn on Wednesday said he will seek hearings into the conduct of Lackland training instructors and to investigate problems with basic training and the integration of women into the military.

"Specifically what I'm talking about are what kind of policy changes, what kind of training, what kind of preventative measures the Air Force will put into place," Cornyn said.

The Texas Republican has blocked the nomination of the proposed Air Force chief of staff over concerns that Lackland is "not adequately addressing the unacceptable situation."

U.S. Representative Jackie Speier has already called for hearings in the House, and the California Democrat's request has received several dozen co-sponsors.

Speier has claimed that the problem of women in the military being sexually harassed and raped by men in command positions is far more widespread than officials have been willing to believe.

She says the 20-year sentence meted out on July 21 to Staff Sergeant Luis Walker for crimes including rape and sexual assault was inadequate.

"I'm sick of the excuses," she said.

In June another instructor, Staff Sergeant Peter Vega-Maldonado, pleaded guilty to having sex with a female trainee and was sentenced to 90 days' confinement.

(Reporting By Jim Forsyth; Editing by Dan Burns and Vicki Allen)