An Army drill sergeant was found guilty Tuesday of 18 counts of rape against six women in the cornerstone case of the military’s sexual-misconduct scandal.
Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson, 32, faces a maximum of life in prison for each rape count. However, his ultimate sentence is difficult to predict, legal experts said, because of the wide latitude military appeals courts have in reconsidering jury judgments.
Eugene Fidell, a Washington lawyer specializing in military justice, would predict only that Simpson was facing a “double-digit” sentence.
The trial’s sentencing phase begins Monday.
Simpson also was found guilty of 25 other criminal counts brought by prosecutors, who said he created an environment of “fear, intimidation and control” at the Aberdeen Proving Ground to coerce sex from trainees under his supervision.
The six-member military jury, which deliberated for 31 hours, found Simpson not guilty on seven charges, including one rape count; it reduced four other counts to lesser offenses.
Simpson stood at attention as Tuesday’s verdicts were read and did not visibly react. The soldier, who has been behind bars since his arrest in September, left the courtroom holding hands with his wife, who is stationed at an Army post in Virginia.
The verdicts indicated that the court-martial jury rejected defense efforts to tear down the credibility of the women who accused Simpson of rape. Defense lawyers presented testimony to claim that some of the accusers are habitual liars and that several were interested in Simpson sexually.
The defense asserted that the women stood to benefit by helping prosecutors with their accusations, arguing that military officials focused on the Simpson case to show their resolve in dealing with the sex scandal at the Aberdeen base and charges by some of pervasive sexual abuse problems in the military.
The Army, since the charges at Aberdeen surfaced late last year, has fielded more than 1,200 sexual misconduct complaints and opened more than 300 criminal investigations at U.S. installations around the world.
The sex scandal has forced the Army into a rethinking of its entire approach to gender relations, an effort that is still under way.
At Aberdeen, 12 soldiers were charged with various degrees of sexual misconduct, but four so far have received relatively minor punishments. Most of the remaining Aberdeen cases involve drill sergeants accused of having improper relationships with women trainees. Only two others face rape charges.
The fact that all 12 defendants are black, however, also has sparked controversy. Some black civic leaders have charged that Army officials have pressured witnesses to file trumped-up charges against the soldiers in their efforts to prove how serious they are about fighting sexual harassment.
Janice Grant, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter for the Aberdeen area, called the verdicts against Simpson “an attack on the leadership of the African American male.”
Simpson’s accusers were four white women, one Latina and one black woman.
Although Simpson’s defense attorneys had barely contested some of the other charges against him, they had expressed hope they would beat all of the rape counts. When the verdicts were read Tuesday afternoon, defense counsel Frank J. Spinner was clearly taken aback.
A senior Army official said the sweeping verdicts against Simpson reflect the military jury’s view that a sergeant who is entrusted great powers must be held to a strict standard of behavior. “This reflects a consideration of the special circumstances that an obligation of trust mandates,” said the officer.
The prosecution contended that Simpson had used nearly absolute power over trainees to terrorize some of them and use their weaknesses - including past crimes and indiscretions - to extort sex from them. Simpson, seeking sexual conquests in a competition with other drill sergeants, often ordered women to his office, two floors above the women’s barracks, then assaulted them, according to the prosecution.
He was described by the prosecution as a “mean, arrogant and manipulative person,” who reveled in his reputation as the harshest disciplinarian in the 143rd Ordnance Battalion.
Simpson already has pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with 11 trainees, including five of the rape victims. He could get up to 32 years in prison on those charges and five sexual-harassment offenses he admitted.
The sex scandal at Aberdeen and the growing reports of sexual abuse elsewhere in the armed forces have caused women’s advocates to call for an independent investigation of how the military handles such complaints.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., a key member of the House National Security Committee, reacted to the verdicts against Simpson by saying the case pointed to the failure of the military’s reporting system and chain-of-command system to deal with allegations of sexual abuse.
She predicted Congress would “do what we can” to correct the problem.
The court-martial jury was made up of four officers and two noncommissioned officers chosen by the commanding officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
They included two male colonels, a male lieutenant colonel, a male captain, a male sergeant first class and a female master sergeant. Four of the jurors are white, the other two black.
Four votes were needed to return a guilty verdict on each count.