WICHITA FALLS, Texas – By all accounts Col. Samuel Lofton III was a star in the Air Force — a professional, demanding officer who in less than three years led his 82nd Training Group to be the best of the four such groups at Sheppard Air Force Base.
The colonel was often seen chatting with people in his building and around the base. When he was removed from his post about a year ago amid an investigation into misuse of his government travel card, rumors of inappropriate behavior turned into something else when some women went to the Office of Special Investigations.
Now his 27-year military career hangs in the balance as a jury was set to decide Wednesday whether he assaulted and raped a civilian worker, assaulted a second one and made sexually suggestive comments toward a third woman on the base.
The military jury of seven men and two women was to start deliberating after closing arguments. The verdict does not have to be unanimous; two-thirds must agree.
The two civilian workers described in detail, sometimes with difficulty, how he forcibly kissed them and placed their hands on his genitals — each of them on two separate occasions. A high-ranking enlisted member testified that Lofton made repeated sexually suggestive comments to her, called her at home and even asked where she lived.
The defense tried to disprove the allegations during the two-day trial, at which Lofton did not testify.
A financial services officer said travel receipts show that Lofton was in other states in March and May 2007, when one woman said the two assaults happened. Lofton's former secretary testified that the two civilians flirted with Lofton, and one visited his office so often that her supervisors had to be alerted.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
Lofton is charged with rape, four counts of indecent assault and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If convicted, he faces anywhere from no punishment to life in prison.
The two women testified Monday that they were assaulted between about 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. in their offices or someone else's and that no one else was in the building.
But Lofton was in his office on a 30-minute conference call until about 5:30 p.m. every weekday, his executive officer Capt. Brian K. Harrison testified.
Under cross-examination, Harrison said the conference call sometimes ended at 5:15 p.m. and that he could not always account for Lofton's whereabouts.
After jurors reach a verdict, they will decide his sentence on other charges. Lofton pleaded guilty last week to 17 counts of larceny, admitting that he ran up about $12,000 in unauthorized expenses on his government travel card by getting reimbursed for trips he never took and paying his children's school lunches. He also pleaded guilty to being absent without leave nearly a dozen times and two counts of dereliction of duty.
Lofton faces anything from no punishment to more than 100 years in prison and dismissal from the Air Force on those charges. His pleas were not part of a deal with military prosecutors.