Accused Aberdeen sergeant may escape court-martial Less serious forum considered on sex charges

February 14, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

An Aberdeen Proving Ground sergeant who was named in the Army's headline-grabbing sexual misconduct investigation last fall may be able to avoid a court-martial.

Army prosecutors and the command at Aberdeen are considering scrapping the scheduled court-martial of Sgt. Nathanael C. Beach, 32, in favor of a less-serious disciplinary forum, Army officials said.

Beach, a Gulf War veteran, was one of the first three soldiers charged in the sex scandal that broke at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School in November and led to charges at Army posts around the nation.

Beach, slated to face a court-martial next month, allegedly had ,, consensual sex with two female recruits, discussed his religious beliefs and ordered one to write a research paper for him, then disobeyed orders to stay away while he was under investigation. He has said he is innocent.

Maj. Susan Gibson, deputy staff judge advocate at Aberdeen, would only say: "The defense has put a request in for an Article 15. It's being considered."

An Article 15 is a nonjudiciary punishment that could lead to loss of pay or reduction in grade, along with restrictions, rather than discharge and possible jail time from a court-martial.

The post commander, Maj. Gen. John E. Longhauser, would determine whether the case is reduced to an Article 15 proceeding.

Twenty instructors have been suspended at Aberdeen in an investigation that has led 56 women to say they were victims of sexual misconduct.

Beach's lawyer, Capt. Vincent N. Avallone, declined to comment yesterday. From the start, Avallone has said Beach was being unfairly linked with those first accused -- a captain and a sergeant who face more serious charges such as rape and forcible sodomy.

Aberdeen officials said a decision to move to an Article 15 proceeding takes in a number of factors, including the strength of the case. Prosecutors also are required to contact the victims for an opinion.

One of Beach's accusers, Jessica Bleckley, a former Aberdeen trainee whose accusations sparked the investigation, has charged that the Army coerced her into signing a statement. Army officials contacted Bleckley again yesterday, sources said.

Bleckley, who received a hardship discharge from the Army and has moved back to South Carolina, declined an interview request yesterday.

Two weeks ago, while she was still at Aberdeen, Bleckley said she tried to kill herself by swallowing 25 anti-depressant pills -- though medical workers who treated her said they found no such evidence. Bleckley said she was upset after being told to report to Fort Lewis, Wash., rather than to a post in Germany.

Bleckley was disciplined last summer for faking an illness and lying about it on a "sick slip" to get out of duty. In a recent interview, Bleckley said her pay was docked $204, she was given extra duty and put on two-weeks restriction in the incident.

Because of that discipline, she said recruits and sergeants at Aberdeen questioned her sexual misconduct allegations.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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