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Woman testifies that Texas Air Force instructor sexually assaulted her in office
SAN ANTONIO (AP) Fighting back tears, a woman testified Tuesday that a Texas Air Force base instructor facing charges in a widening military sex scandal refused her pleas of no after luring her into his office and then sexually assaulted her on a bed.
The alleged victim said after the attack, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker told her not to tell anybody about what happened.
"I said no several times, in several different ways. He didn't accept that answer," the female airman testified, wiping away tears.
She was the first of 10 alleged victims who are to testify at Walker's court-martial at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The Associated Press typically doesn't identify alleged sexual assault victims.
Walker is among 12 instructors at the Lackland base who are facing charges or being investigated. His charges 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault are the most serious in the case. He faces up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted by a seven-person jury comprised of military personnel.
The female airman told jurors that before assaulting her, Walker had made sexually suggestive comments to her and hugged and kissed her in a stairwell.
While being questioned by Maj. Naomi Dennis, one of Walker's attorneys, the alleged victim acknowledged she initially denied that anything inappropriate happened with Walker.
"At the time, I was not ready to talk about what had happened to me," she said.
Dennis asked the woman why she was remembering new details, including the stairwell kiss. "The more I talk about it ... the more I remember," she told Dennis.
During opening statements earlier Tuesday, one of the prosecutors, Maj. Patricia Gruen, described Walker as a "consummate predator" and a "wolf in sheep's clothing." She said as a military instructor, he was responsible for helping mold recruits into airmen but abused his authority.
"He used (his power) so he could gain sexual favors," Gruen said. "He used it as a way to get his way with trainees."
Dennis told jurors there is no evidence to substantiate the charges against Walker.
"Ten victims, 28 charges. Those are just numbers. Numbers aren't proof," Dennis said. "This case requires you to dig deeper to find the truth. Once you start digging, you will find some pretty incredible scenarios."
Base officials have described Walker's case as the "cornerstone" of an ongoing investigation.
In June, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted that he had sex with a female recruit. The base instructor was sentenced to 90 days of confinement as part of a plea deal. He later acknowledged he had been involved with nine other trainees, which prosecutors didn't previously know about. Prosecutors are not seeking charges in the other cases.
The alleged sexual misconduct at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first alleged victim didn't come forward until last year.
Mark Ryan, a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations who was the first witness Tuesday, told jurors that the initial alleged victim who claimed she was sexually assaulted was identified after another female trainee told officials about it.
Investigators have identified at least 31 female trainees believed to be victims in the sex scandal. A two-star general, Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, has launched a separate, independent probe, and nearly 80 members of Congress have called for a hearing of the scandal.
Walker is charged with raping one female recruit and sexually assaulting or having inappropriate sexual or personal contact with nine others. Air Force regulations forbid instructors from having personal relationships, including on social media, with trainees. Prosecutors say Walker sent some trainees sexually inappropriate text messages.
Walker 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.
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. Walker is the only one charged with rape.
Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio, one of the six instructors charged, had his case referred to a court-martial Tuesday. No date was set.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70 .