March 17, 1998 in Nation/World

Top Nco Spared Prison Sentence Mckinney Demoted On Way To Retirement

Anne Gearan Associated Press
 

Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney was spared a prison sentence Monday and busted down one rank for obstruction of justice after pleading with a military jury to let him retire “with some form of honor.”

The Army had asked for a six-month prison sentence and a demotion to the lowest rank, private.

The same jury that acquitted McKinney, once the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted man, on Friday of crudely pressuring six military women for sex imposed the sentence after two hours of deliberations.

McKinney was convicted on only one of 19 counts, obstruction of justice, for urging one of his accusers to lie to investigators.

Also Monday, McKinney’s first accuser, Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster, was served with a $1.5 million libel suit filed by McKinney alleging that she lied in interviews when she first went public with her story last year.

Hoster, now retired, claimed McKinney groped her during a business trip to Hawaii.

McKinney, 47, stood at attention and showed no emotion when his sentence was read. His wife, Wilhemina, sat stoically behind him.

“I would ask you to allow Wilhemina and I to move on with some honor in terms of the 29 years of service I have provided and the 25 she has provided since we have been married,” he had asked the jury.

“Whatever the outcome of this thing is, Wilhemina and I have said we’re going to continue to do what we do best, which is to serve young people and soldiers, whether in uniform or civilian life,” McKinney said.

“I’d like to do that with some form of honor.”

The sentence, which must be approved by senior Army leadership, will likely cut his retirement benefits. McKinney, who had already submitted his retirement request, will leave the Army as a master sergeant instead of a sergeant major.

As he left the courtroom, McKinney was asked if he was satisfied with the sentence.

“Well, let’s just say we’re going to move on with our lives in spite of this long, extensive investigation,” McKinney told reporters. “We did OK.”

His wife added: “Thank God for prayers.”

Four of the six women who had accused McKinney of groping them or crudely pressuring them for sex sat together in the courtroom. They expressed no emotion at his sentence, and made no comment afterward.

Hoster was not in the courtroom Monday. Another of McKinney’s accusers, Maj. Michelle Gunzelman, is stationed in Germany.

McKinney’s attorney, Charles Gittins, told the jury that McKinney and his wife have suffered enough in the year since the accusations were made public, and imprisoning McKinney and reducing his rank would be “overkill.”

Outside court, Gittins insisted, as he did during the trial, that the women concocted their stories out of revenge.

“We demonstrated, I believe conclusively … that the women were liars, cheats and frauds,” Gittins said. “We were left with an obstruction of justice charge that the government essentially manufactured.”

A tape of the call made by the woman was played for the jury during the six-week trial.

In the tape recording, McKinney is heard telling Staff Sgt. Christine Fetrow: “Just tell them that we talked. … No inappropriateness at all, just that we talked.”

Fetrow testified that McKinney pursued her for sex for more than two years, and her accusations accounted for 10 of the 19 charges against McKinney.

Fetrow said that in the telephone call, he was urging her to lie to investigators, but McKinney testified he was merely encouraging her to tell the truth.

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