Defense seeks access to top Army brass in bid to dismiss rape case
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (AP) _ High-ranking Army officials pressured the military to overstate the charges against a former drill sergeant accused of rape at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, his defense lawyer said Monday.
And as pretrial hearings began in the court martial of staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, other black Army sergeants held a news conference wearing pillow cases over their heads, alleging that a ``sexual witch hunt″ is under way.
Army officials’ stated policy of ``zero tolerance″ for sexual misconduct _ reiterated publicly last fall by Army Secretary Togo West _ led post commanders to bring unreasonably serious charges against staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, his lawyer said.
``When a general speaks, a colonel will jump. When the secretary of the Army speaks, generals will jump,″ Maj. Mike Sawyers, one of Simpson’s lawyers, said at a pretrial hearing.
Simpson, 32, is charged with 25 counts of rape and scores of other offenses involving as many as 28 female soldiers. If convicted, he could face life in prison. His trial begins April 7.
Defense lawyers are seeking to have the charges dismissed, citing ``unlawful command influence.″ Army officials have denied that senior Army officials influenced the prosecutions at Aberdeen.
In all, 10 men at Aberdeen faces charges as a result of the investigation, which also includes allegations of racism: All of those charged are black, and most of their accusers are white.
The military judge said he would decide Tuesday whether to allow defense lawyers to question West, Army Chief of Staff Dennis J. Reimer and Assistant Army Secretary Sarah Lister.
Prosecutors said Simpson’s lawyers were fishing for evidence.
``The government is not trying to hide anything or keep anything secret from them,″ government prosecutor Capt. Theresa Gallagher said.
Defense lawyers referred to a statement by Lister, which was repeated by Aberdeen commander Maj. Gen. John Longhouser, that ``there is no such thing as consensual sex between drill sergeants and trainees.″
Army spokesmen have since said the officials meant the Army forbids sexual relationships _ as well as any personal relationships _ between commanders and subordinates.
But investigators _ at least initially _ found it difficult to categorize the sexual relationships that trainees said they had with their drill sergeants at Aberdeen, according to a defense witness, the post’s criminal investigations chief, Donald A. Hayden III.
The trainees would say, ``I didn’t really want to have sex with him, but I felt like if I didn’t, he was going to smoke me,″ meaning he would make them do push-ups or extra work, Hayden testified.
``They weren’t rape allegations. I didn’t consider them to be clear consensual sex, so we were in a gray area,″ Hayden said.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors dropped 10 charges against Simpson and added 10 others, including rape and indecent assault. The number of alleged rape victims remained at 10.
Also on Monday, five black men and one black woman claiming to be Aberdeen sergeants wore pillow cases over their heads at an NAACP news conference as they described a ``sexual witch hunt.″
Several sergeants, wearing khaki uniforms, said they were being singled out while whites were not investigated.
``The morale is very low,″ said one who wore a green pillow case.
Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Beach, 32, who in March was cleared of sexual misconduct charges, also appeared. ``There are a lot of young ladies out there making false accusations,″ he said. ``We are denied justice.″