After a drill sergeant at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground burst into tears, pounded his head on a table and pleaded for leniency Friday, a court-martial jury sentenced him to just six months in prison for 18 counts of sexual misconduct with five female trainees, and interfering with the investigation.
Staff Sgt. Vernell Robinson Jr., the first Aberdeen defendant to admit taking part in a “game” of sexual conquest with other drill instructors, will also be given a dishonorable discharge from the military, where he has served for 12 years.
Robinson, who will be eligible for parole in two months, could have gotten 55 years in jail.
The seven member court-martial panel handed down its sentence after Robinson broke down during a dramatic apology.
“I got out of my character,” he told the panel. “I lost the ground I was standing on. … I got the devil in me!” He cried and banged his head on the defense table as he begged permission to remain in the military. Finally, the judge called a recess.
Several experts in military justice called Robinson’s sentence a light one considering the number of counts against him and the seriousness with which the Army views sexual misconduct infractions by drill sergeants.
“It does seem on the light side,” said Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer with long experience in the area. He speculated that Robinson’s contrition and acknowledgment that he had participated in a sexual game with other drill instructors might have caused the jury to ease its punishment.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of at least 10 years.
During his three-day trial, Robinson told how he and other sergeants identified women recruits as sexual targets when they arrived at Aberdeen and maneuvered to have sex with them, all the while covering up for other drill instructors.
They called their sport “the game,” and Robinson acknowledged that he had considered himself a “gangster” beyond the reach of his superiors.
But Robinson, like the three others charged in the military’s biggest sex scandal, insisted the sex was consensual. The single charge of rape originally lodged against him was dropped before the trial.
Four men at Aberdeen were originally charged with rape, but the charges were dropped against all but Delmar Simpson, who was sentenced to a maximum 25 years in prison for raping six women.