APG sergeant called predator As rape trial begins, Simpson is accused of abusing his power

April 12, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Amid growing doubts about the strength of sexual misconduct prosecutions at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army began its biggest case to date yesterday by portraying Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson as a predator who used the "power, access and control" of his rank to force female soldiers into unwanted sex.

Capt. Dave Thomas said five times in his 20-minute opening statement that what occurred between Simpson and six female soldiers whom the Army says he raped was "not consensual sex." He used frank descriptions of alleged sexual assaults, saying female soldiers feared a higher-ranking soldier one described as being "seven feet tall."

"There wasn't any romance here," Thomas told the military panel that will decide whether Simpson is guilty of 58 charges against him. "It was take off your clothes, lay down on the floor, stop crying, and after the sex put on your clothes and leave."

Simpson, 32, who has pleaded innocent to the alleged rapes and related charges, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and has a shaved head and a raised scar on one cheek. As one of five drill sergeants with A Company, 143rd Ordnance Battalion, he reveled in his reputation for being hard-bitten, proudly calling himself the "company a- - - - - - ," according to testimony.

Thomas said Simpson's authority -- symbolized by his drill sergeant badge and signature flat-brimmed hat -- made him loom even larger to the 22 female recruits who have accused him of crimes including forcible sodomy and assault.

Army leaders have claimed that no sex is consensual between soldiers of different rank, and prosecutors said yesterday that Simpson carefully selected his alleged victims by gauging their vulnerability, collecting pieces of personal information and doing them favors.

Thomas said Simpson told one female soldier, "You owe me" after he helped her avoid a disciplinary hearing and discharge.

"He got inside their heads, he got inside their minds. Their frailties became his leverage over them," Thomas said.

Simpson, a drill sergeant at Aberdeen's Ordnance Center and School since January 1995, has admitted having sex with 11 trainees at the post, making him the first instructor to do so in a case that prompted a militarywide investigation of sexual misconduct.

The Army will try to prove that Simpson raped trainees, something it has failed to do with any of the other 12 Aberdeen soldiers who have been charged with sexual misconduct.

Yesterday, the Army charged Sgt. 1st Class Tony Cross with 17 crimes involving four female soldiers. Cross, 33, faces charges of sodomy, adultery and improper personal or sexual relationships. and the 11 other soldiers who have been charged are black, and that has sparked criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Army is "under tremendous pressure," said Frank J. Spinner, Simpson's civilian lawyer. "These charges started in September, and they still don't have a rape conviction. Sergeant Simpson is their showcase. They must win."

Capt. Edward W. Brady, another Simpson lawyer, implored the jury yesterday to weigh each case of rape separately, not as one voluminous allegation. At one point, the Army had filed 158 criminal counts against Simpson.

"Evaluate it in terms of quality, not quantity," Brady said.

Brady outlined a three-part strategy to "tell the other side of the story." First, he said, some alleged victims told "fabrications, lies" and added, "We will be exploring their motives for doing so."

Second, Brady said, several statements made by female soldiers were based on accusations made by one private who had a consensual relationship with Simpson "because she hoped for preferential treatment or because she was attracted to him."

Third, he said, investigators coerced female soldiers -- through zealous questioning or by granting dispensation for misconduct -- into accusing Simpson of crimes.

Army investigators "aggressively and actively encouraged them to embellish their statements," Brady told the jury of two black men, three white men and a white woman.

"It is my impression that the Army investigators were under pressure to confirm, not investigate, to confirm what Army leaders said about this case," he said.

Last month, five female privates accused investigators of trying to force them to make false rape allegations. Many of Simpson's alleged victims will begin testifying next week.

Prosecutors called one witness yesterday, Simpson's supervisor for 7 1/2 months last year. Warrant Officer Paul Wiatr, who was named Aberdeen's outstanding drill instructor last year, said he never received a complaint about Simpson and described him as "a good drill instructor" whose soldiers were loyal to him.

Prosecutors used Wiatr to describe the control drill instructors have over trainees, especially during the first three weeks of the nine-week advanced infantry training known as Gateway to Excellence.

During that time, the roughly 50 students in Simpson's class had to ask his permission to visit the dry cleaner, the gym or anywhere off the post. Simpson's evaluation also played a large part in clearing them from the training program, which allowed them to leave the post on weekends and wear civilian clothes.

Wiatr described drill sergeants as an elite group that is envied by other soldiers.

"Was he a harsh, stern disciplinarian?" asked Capt. Theresa Gallagher, a prosecutor.

"Yes, ma'am," Wiatr answered.

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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