SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Military prosecutors were to begin making their case Tuesday against an Air Force sergeant who faces the most serious charges, including rape, in a widening sex scandal at the Texas base where U.S. airmen go through basic training.
Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, one of 12 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio who have been charged or who are being investigated, faces 28 counts including rape, aggravated sexual contact and aggravated sexual assault. He could be sentenced to life in prison and dishonorably discharged if convicted of the most serious charges by the seven-member jury made up of military personnel.
Prosecutors were expected to begin calling witnesses later Tuesday after both sides deliver their opening statements.
Walker is accused of sexually assaulting or engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with 10 female recruits at Lackland, one of the country's busiest military training centers, from October 2010 through January 2011. All 10 were expected to testify.
One of the women briefly testified Monday while lawyers debated various legal issues. She confirmed that Walker had texted her a photo of himself, shirtless. Defense attorneys had questioned the authenticity of the photo.
"He sent a lot of photos," said the woman, whom The Associated Press isn't naming because she is an alleged victim in the sex scandal. Prosecutors say Walker also told the woman that she was "hot" and "should have been naked."
At least 31 female trainees have been identified as victims in the sex scandal.
Officials at Lackland have called Walker's the "cornerstone case" in the investigation, which is ongoing.
A two-star general, Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, is conducting a separate, independent investigation, and nearly 80 members of Congress have called for a hearing on the scandal.
The alleged sexual misconduct at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first woman — one of Walker's alleged victims — didn't come forward until last year.
According to Air Force prosecutors, Walker had sexual intercourse with 4 of the 10 female recruits. He also is accused of forcing five recruits to engage in sexual acts by threatening their military careers and intimidating two of the women into lying about his alleged misconduct, according to the charge sheet.
Walker was a trainer for about 18 months, until he was removed from his position in June 2011. He joined the Air Force in 2004 and previously was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and at facilities in Montana and Korea. The Air Force is withholding his age and hometown.
Lackland is where every American airman reports for basic training — about 35,000 a 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.
Six of the 12 instructors under investigation for misconduct face charges ranging from rape to adultery. Officials say nine of those instructors were in the same squadron.
The first court-martial in the case resulted in a plea agreement in June, when Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted to having sex with a female trainee and was sentenced to 90 days of confinement. He later acknowledged being involved with a total of 10 trainees, a number previously unknown to investigators.
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