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Air Force instructor maintains innocence at court: martial
SAN ANTONIO |
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Lawyers for a male Air Force drill instructor accused of serial sexual assault of women said on Friday there was no evidence to convict their client as arguments ended in the first court-martial stemming from a widening military sex scandal.
Staff Sergeant Luis Walker is charged with 28 counts, including rape and attempted assault, for allegedly having inappropriate sexual relationships with 10 women at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, the home of Air Force basic training.
The military has not seen such a large number of sexual misconduct cases at one base since 1996, when a scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground Army base in Maryland resulted in a dozen officers being charged with sexual assault.
Walker is the first of seven instructors at Lackland referred for court-martial. Five others are formally under investigation, and 35 more instructors have been taken off active duty while officials look into accusations.
The jury began its deliberations on Friday afternoon. If convicted, Walker could face life in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
"There is no independent collaboration for any of these claims," said Joseph Esparza, a lawyer for Walker. "There is no video, no physical evidence. All we have is a lot of evolving stories."
All 10 women testified before the seven-member Air Force jury that Walker would befriend them during the rigorous 8 1/2-week basic training program, and that they initially appreciated his special attention. But they said the attention quickly turned to hugs, kisses, and - four women testified - sex against their will.
"You know now that Staff Sergeant Walker is the consummate predator," Major Patricia Gruen, the lead prosecutor, told the jury. "We gave him a position of authority. We gave him the uniform that should carry respect, we gave him the hat of a Military Training Instructor, and he used that for his own sexual gratification."
Gruen said Walker took advantage of the fact that basic training is supposed to be "unusual and terrifying," and he singled out women who were "fragile and scared."
"They took a leap of faith, all those women who came here," Gruen said. "They are supposed to be terrified of their MTI (military training instructor), they are conditioned not to make a move without the approval of the MTI, and he took advantage of that. He guided those women like a lamb to slaughter."
But Esparza said the prosecution did not present any physical evidence to back up those claims.
"What about DNA evidence?" he asked. "DNA evidence is common in sex cases, and they had access to DNA, but where is the DNA evidence?"
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Peter Cooney)
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