US army shamed as sergeant is found guilty of raping trainees

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The Independent Online
A US army drill sergeant was yesterday convicted on 18 counts of raping female trainees in the most serious case of sexual misconduct to come before a military court since the army started mixed combat-training in 1989. Delmar Simpson, 32, a former staff sergeant at the Aberdeen training centre, in Maryland, was found guilty on 18 out of 19 rape charges involving six trainees.

The case was the first of dozens relating to the Aberdeen centre that are likely to come before military courts and has prompted calls for the policy of mixed-sex training to be reassessed. The army is in the course of investigating more than 313 alleged sexual crimes at Aberdeen and other training grounds. Accusations proliferated after the gravity of the charges against Simpson forced the army to go public about Aberdeen's problems last autumn.

Simpson had faced 54 charges relating to 11 female recruits. He faced 19 counts of rape and was convicted on all but one, where he was found guilty of indecent assault.

Before the trial he pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with 11 female trainees and to five other charges, in the hope that the prosecution might drop the rape charges. However, the judge refused to countenance plea-bargaining in what was being watched as a test case, and the rape charges stood.

The six-person jury of five men and one woman took five days to reach its decision, suggesting elements of disagreement. A majority of four to two is required at courts martial.

Simpson's defence had been that all the female recruits involved agreed to sex with him.

Shortly before the trial began, five of his accusers cast doubt on the charges. They publicly recanted accusations of rape, saying army investigators encouraged them to claim they had been raped, when they had willingly engaged in sex. This was because admitting to consensual sex would have made them liable to dismissal, while rape incriminated only the man.

The background to the case was complicated by the fact that Simpson (and 11 other drill sergeants facing similar accusations) is black and most of the female recruits who made the allegations are white. This gave rise to objections from some black leaders that the charges were racially inspired.

Revelations about the state of discipline, or lack of it, at Aberdeen muddied the case. Night-time supervision by officers had apparently been scaled down from 1995 for reasons of cost, and there were reports of dormitory floors being littered each morning with empty spirits bottles and used condoms.

Senior officers were quoted as saying that discipline at Aberdeen had effectively broken down. Sex was said to be "rampant".

In finding Simpson guilty, the jury appears to have accepted the prosecution's argument that Simpson, as the trainees' superior officer, was in a position to order the female recruits to do what he wanted.

One 21-year-old said she had allowed Simpson to have sex with her because she wanted to be promoted. Another charged that Simpson raped her eight times in the first four weeks of her three-month course. Simpson is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment after a separate sentencing hearing.