35 more charges dropped against APG sergeant 94 counts remain in sex misconduct case

April 05, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Army prosecutors at Aberdeen Proving Ground agreed yesterday to drop 35 more sexual misconduct charges -- including four counts of rape -- against Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson, in a move defense lawyers said "narrowed the battlefield" for his court-martial.

The agreement concluded a week of pretrial positioning by Simpson's defense, which eliminated more than a third of the charges against the 13-year Army veteran. Simpson is still accused of 94 counts of sexual misconduct, including 21 rape allegations.

"We knew from the start that the government would pursue at least one rape charge," said Frank J. Spinner, Simpson's civilian lawyer. "They have to have a rape charge."

Defense attorneys have argued that the Army inflated the charges against Simpson to make it appear he committed more crimes than have been alleged by 26 female recruits.

Col. Paul Johnston, the military judge, dismissed 19 sexual misconduct charges against Simpson on Thursday after ruling that prosecutors had charged him with the same crime under two laws.

Yesterday, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to drop most of the 35 additional counts because they were less serious charges associated with larger crimes.

For example, Johnston dismissed nine counts of indecent acts related to rape allegations that still appear on a list of Simpson's charges.

Capt. Edward W. Brady, a Simpson lawyer, argued that 10 to 20 additional charges should be dismissed as "lesser related offenses." Johnston could rule on that next week.

The four rape charges were removed by prosecutors for a different reason.

Col. Edward France, the post's staff judge advocate, met yesterday morning with Maj. Gen. John E. Longhouser, who as post commander has sole authority to convene courts-martial.

On France's recommendation, Longhouser agreed to drop the rape counts involving two female recruits -- a sign their stories or statements may not have fared well under cross-examination when the court-martial begins April 14.

The remaining rape charges involve eight women.

Neither defense lawyers nor prosecutors would discuss Long- houser's reasons. But last month, five current and former female privates accused Army investigators of trying to force them to make false rape charges against Aberdeen soldiers.

One of them, Private Toni Moreland, faces a court-martial tomorrow, accused of filing a false statement. She has acknowledged recanting allegations of having consensual sex with an Aberdeen drill sergeant, and faces a maximum penalty of 30 days.

"I think [the defense] has been telling the government from the beginning that they have problems with their case," Spinner said. "I think the closer they get to trial the more they realize that."

Since August, 56 female recruits once posted at Aberdeen have accused male soldiers of sexual misconduct, prompting a militarywide investigation to root out such behavior.

Eleven Aberdeen soldiers have been charged with crimes.

Simpson, 32, could receive life in prison if convicted on even one rape charge. A drill sergeant at Aberdeen's Ordnance Center and School since January 1995, Simpson has been accused by female trainees in his charge of rape, forcible sodomy, assault and other crimes.

While pleased that some charges have been dropped, his attorneys said the case against Simpson is still dire.

Prosecutors "have narrowed the battlefield," said Maj. Mike Sawyers, another Simpson attorney. "They are drawing the line on what they want to contend."

Simpson testified yesterday morning as part of his motion to knock 2 1/2 years off any future sentence, based on the time he has served in the maximum security section of the Marine Brig in Quantico, Va. Simpson has been jailed there since Sept. 11.

Brady argued that Simpson's confinement constitutes punishment before he has been convicted of a crime. Simpson, who is 6 feet 4, is in a 6-by-8 cell in the Special Quarters cell block. Until three weeks ago, Simpson said, he was taken anywhere outside his cell in leg and arm irons, even to his morning shower 11 steps down the corridor. Now only leg irons are required.

Simpson said he spends at least 22 hours a day in his cell. Prisoners are not allowed to sit on their cots from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. They can sit in a plastic chair, or stand. Food is served on paper plates and eaten with plastic spoons "about the size you stir coffee with," Simpson said. He said he eats steak and salad with his hands.

"He's been put in a cage and fed like an animal," Brady said.

But Army prosecutors argued that Simpson, who allegedly threatened some of his accusers if they testified against him, has been treated no differently than other "maximum custody" prisoners at the 150-bed jail.

Chief Warrant Officer James M. Hart, the brig's commanding officer, said new "detainees" are placed in medium or maximum custody.

Because of the number of charges against Simpson and the resulting high flight risk, Hart said he has kept him in maximum custody -- even though Maj. Susan Gibson, who is supervising his prosecution, and Capt. Judith Fishell, the Aberdeen magistrate who reviewed charges against him, have recommended that he be allowed into the general prison population.

"He was a threat," said Capt. Dave Thomas, an Army prosecutor. "That was the primary reason for his confinement."

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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