Witness describes surveillance at Air Force base

July 20, 2012 - 12:01 AM
Air Force Sex Scandal

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Luis A. Walker arrives from a lunch break during his court martial at Lackland Air Force Base, Monday, July 16, 2012 in San Antonio. Walker, a former training officer, is charged with illicit sexual contact with 10 female trainees. He is facing 28 counts including rape and is one of 12 instructors under investigation. (AP Photo/The San Antonio Express-News, Jerry Lara)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Instructors and trainees at a Texas military base at the center of an Air Force sex scandal are under constant surveillance, a witness testified Thursday in the trial of an instructor facing rape and sexual assault charges.

Technical Sgt. Richard Capestro was the sole defense witness in the case of Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who is accused of having illicit relationships with 10 women in basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio. Walker faces seven charges including rape, aggravated sexual assault, obstructing justice and violating rules of professional conduct. The case against him contains 28 total specifications of wrongdoing, and Walker faces up to life in prison.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys rested their cases Thursday and closing arguments were scheduled for Friday.

Lackland is where every American airman receives basic training. Walker is among 12 of the base's instructors being investigated for sexual misconduct toward at least 31 female trainees.

Six instructors have been charged on counts ranging from rape to adultery, and Walker is the first to stand trial. He faces the most serious charges of all those accused, making his case what prosecutors call a "cornerstone" of the larger investigation.

Capestro testified that officials conduct inspections of trainee dormitory areas without warning. The testimony seemed to be an attempt to cast doubt on the possibility Walker could have committed rape and sexual assault on the premises without someone noticing.

Capestro also said cameras are in the hallways and at least some of the stairwells around base dormitories, and an open microphone allows an official on duty in a control room to push a button and listen in on any activity in the dorms.

When pressed by prosecutors on whether he considered Walker a friend, Capestro replied, "I wouldn't say I'm close friends with anybody. But I have a lot of respect for Staff Sgt. Walker."

Prosecutors called 14 total witnesses against Walker over three days. One alleged victim gave a video deposition because she had recently given birth and could not travel to be in court.

In especially dramatic testimony on Tuesday, one alleged victim fought back tears as she described Walker luring her into his office and sexually assaulting her on a bed, ignoring her cries to stop. She and others said they were afraid reporting his actions would get them kicked out of the Air Force.

As the prosecution was resting Thursday, the trial's judge, Col. Wesley Moore, threw out a picture of a shirtless Walker that he texted to one of his alleged victims, as well an explicit text message he sent her. Moore instructed the seven-member jury of military personnel to disregard both.

The photo was taken by Walker and shows him standing shirtless in a bathroom, wearing an instructor hat. But Moore ruled that the picture and message were sent after the alleged victim had left Lackland, and therefore rules prohibiting improper relationships during basic training no longer applied.

The alleged sexual misconduct at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first accuser didn't come forward until last year.

Lackland has about 475 instructors for the approximately 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. About one in five is female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a group of instructors, 90 percent of whom are men.

The jury should receive the case for deliberations after closing arguments. Under military court rules, jurors consider each charge individually and can reach a guilty verdict on each with a simple two-thirds majority vote.

If Walker is found guilty on any charge, sentencing begins immediately and is also decided by the jury.

The prosecution can then call witnesses to testify as to damages caused, and the defendant can take the stand. The defendant can chose to do so under oath — in which case he can face cross examination — or not, in which the prosecution can only call witnesses to refute his testimony.