Aberdeen Rape Trial Goes To Jury

Defense Says Accusers Lied About Encounters With Drill Instructor

Deliberations Resume Today

54 Charges To Be Decided Against Sergeant

April 25, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

A lawyer for Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson told a military jury yesterday that convicting the Aberdeen Proving Ground drill instructor of raping female trainees would seriously undermine Army morale and the chain of command.

As jurors prepared to begin deliberations, Frank J. Spinner said the Army's case against Simpson, who is charged with 19 counts of rape and 35 other offenses, is fraught with doubt. Accusations hinge on testimony from female soldiers of dubious reputation, without any supporting physical evidence, he said.

"See, if you convict Sergeant Simpson on facts like these, then you're going to be sending a message out into the Army that no drill sergeant is safe," Spinner told the jurors, five men and one woman of higher rank. "What this really comes down to is that any woman can come in and say she had sex with a drill sergeant and say she was raped without any corroborating evidence.

"Discipline in the Army is going to break down. Because who has the power now? The drill sergeant or the trainee?"

But Capt. Theresa Gallagher, the Army prosecutor, told the panel in an impassioned statement that the government did not "over-generalize" in presenting its case against Simpson.

"The government is not saying that all drill sergeants abuse their power and control," she told the jurors. "We are not saying that all drill sergeants that have sex with trainees are raping them.

"We are saying that that drill sergeant abused his power and authority," she said, pointing at Simpson.

After eight days of court-martial testimony, the Simpson case, which helped prompt a militarywide search for sex crimes in the ranks, is in the jury's hands. The 32-year-old sergeant has admitted some lesser crimes, but he could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on a single rape count.

Panel members deliberated for two hours yesterday afternoon before adjourning until this morning. Four of the six panel members must agree on a verdict.

Twelve Aberdeen soldiers have been charged since September, but the Simpson case is the biggest to emerge at the Army training post.

Simpson has admitted having sex with 11 recruits, including five of the six women he is accused of raping. The incidents occurred on his office couch, his on-post apartment and in trainee barracks. He faces 32 years in prison for those crimes.

Using a large chart color-coded by crime as a prop for jurors, Gallagher described Simpson as a meticulous planner who screened victims before raping or sexually harassing them. She recounted details of each alleged rape, weaving together common elements: selection using trainees' insecurities, disciplinary problems, or physical injuries as leverage; intimidation; violent sex; and, abrupt dismissal after the act.

"He manipulated his command, he manipulated his fellow drill sergeants, and his trainees. He created an environment of fear, intimidation, and control," said Gallagher, who rarely referred to Simpson by name, calling him "the accused" or "the criminal in a green uniform."

With Simpson's wife watching from the gallery's first row, Gallagher said the 6-foot, 4-inch drill instructor became "more perverted, more aggressive, and more demanding" between his arrival at the post in January 1995 and his arrest in September 1996. Gallagher's chart showed that in July 1995 Simpson was either pursuing or having sex with 11 recruits.

But Spinner said the heart of the Army's argument -- that Simpson held unchecked power, access and control over trainees -- was "ludicrous."

Spinner said some alleged victims were "compulsive liars." Some slept with drill sergeants for special treatment. Some had disciplinary problems that made testifying against Simpson a "get out of jail free card."

To illustrate Aberdeen's laid-back command, he cited two of alleged rape victims who were not punished after going absent without leave. He noted that another trainee referred to Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the Ordnance Center and School, as "Bob."

"Does that sound like an atmosphere of fear and control?" Spinner asked.

In instructions to jurors, Col. Paul Johnston, the military judge, did not broaden the definition of "constructive force" rape.

Two of the six alleged victims have described incidents of physically coerced rape. The remaining trainees testified that they submitted to Simpson's advances because they feared him, which is the central element of the "constructive force" rape.

In a small victory for the defense, Johnston told jurors to consider the fact that the alleged victims could be lying to protect themselves as "accomplices" in the crimes. The military prohibits sex between soldiers of different rank within the command.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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