Defense in rape case says Army disregarded accused sergeant's rights They 'only wanted to look tough' on issue, defendant's lawyer says

April 02, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Weeks before announcing allegations of widespread sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Army generals worried in their Maryland and Virginia offices, chatted by phone and e-mail, and plotted how to keep a case growing by the day from tarnishing the Army's image.

The story of how Army leaders, including Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, the Army chief of staff, decided to outline the Aberdeen allegations in a Nov. 7 news conference unfolded yesterday in a post courtroom where Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson is facing rape, forcible sodomy, assault and other charges involving 27 female recruits.

Simpson is one of 11 soldiers criminally charged in a case that came to light quietly in September. But Army leaders heard echoes of Tailhook, the Navy's 1991 sexual harassment scandal, and turned "an ordinary case into an extraordinary one" as a result.

"The Army did not want another Tailhook," said Maj. Mike Sawyers, Simpson's attorney. "The Army only wanted to look tough on these issues."

Simpson's lawyers are seeking dismissal of more than 150 criminal counts against the 13-year Army veteran based on "unlawful command influence" imposed by Reimer, Army Secretary Togo West, and Assistant Secretary Sara Lister.

Col. Paul Johnston, the military judge, refused a defense request yesterday to interview West, Reimer and Lister. He is expected to rule on the "unlawful command influence" motion this week.

Sawyers argued yesterday that top Army leaders, through public comments and private directives, forced Maj. Gen. John E. Long- houser, the post commander who calls for courts-martial, into pressing charges against Simpson.

Longhouser, a 32-year Army veteran, testified that he has recommended courts-martial on some sexual misconduct allegations at Aberdeen and dismissed others. Capt. Theresa Gallagher, an Army prosecutor, said that showed independence from superior officers.

"They [the defense] have failed to show any nexus between Army leaders and any member of the convening authority," Gallagher argued.

But Sawyers said the unlawful influence started Sept. 18, a week after Simpson was jailed and the day Longhouser took command at Aberdeen. Three hours into his new job, Longhouser discovered that female recruits had made sexual misconduct accusations against drill instructors at the Ordnance Center and School, a tenant run by Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley.

Longhouser heard this while attending an Officers Club celebration with Shadley; Maj. Gen. Richard Tragemann, his predecessor; and Gen. Johnnie E. Wilson, who as head of the Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, Va., is Longhouser's boss.

Longhouser testified that they discussed Simpson's pretrial confinement and the multiplying charges at the post. To date, 56 women have leveled accusations of sexual misconduct. Staff Sgt. Marvin C. Kelley, 33, was charged Monday with crimes involving seven women.

Sawyers argued that Wilson's part in the conversation was the first sign of unlawful command influence. But in late October his involvement grew when he recommended that Longhouser speak with Navy leaders who convened courts martial after Tailhook.

Those military trials resulted in no criminal convictions of Navy officers. Longhouser did not take Wilson's advice.

But at the time, Longhouser said, he was increasingly concerned that the allegations would not stay secret. He called Brig. Gen. John G. Meyer, chief of Army information, with a proposal: Hold a news conference before the media "distorted" the facts.

"The people at the Pentagon wanted the press release to come out of Aberdeen," Longhouser testified. "I did not feel that was the right way to go. I felt that the corporate Army should stand up publicly and face the problem."

Longhouser said the news conference was supposed to send a message to the public and through the ranks that such behavior would be punished.

"When the secretary of the army, the [Army] chief of staff, and the [training and doctrine] commander stand before the public and the press I would expect, I'm sure, that everyone in fact would sit up and listen," Longhouser said.

Sawyers quoted Longhouser, adding: "It was a pre-emptive strike by the Army. It started with General Wilson and it headed XTC down the chain of command."

Pretrial motions continue tomorrow.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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