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Air Force instructor sentenced 20 years in sex assault case

Air Force Sex Scandal_Pata.jpg

July 20, 2012: Air Force Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, left foreground, arrives for the fourth day of his trial at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (2012 San Antonio Express2012)

An Air Force instructor in Texas has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape and sexual assault in a sweeping sex scandal that has rocked one of the busiest military training centers in the U.S.

A military jury at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio found Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty Friday on charges that included rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault.

The same jury decided his punishment Saturday.

Walker is among 12 Lackland instructors investigated for sexual misconduct with female trainees. Six have been charged.

Lackland is where all Air Force recruits go through basic training. It has about 475 instructors for about 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. While one in five recruits is female, most instructors are male

He faced the most serious counts among the six instructors charged in a sex scandal that rocked one of the nation's busiest training bases.

A military jury convicted Walker on Friday on all 28 counts including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. Trial judge Col. Wesley Moore consolidated those charges into 20 on Saturday morning, saying some counts duplicated others, but the change did not affect Walker's maximum sentence.

Walker submitted a written statement during the sentencing hearing, but he also spoke from a podium directly to the jury while his two sons, ages 7 and 4, looked on quietly.

"I ask for my family's sake, for my two boys right there," Walker said, wheeling around and sobbing. "I ask that I am allowed to have a future with them."

Walker tried to mention having taken a polygraph test, but the prosecution objected before he could divulge the results.

"I promise you," he said of any sentence, "I'll accept it humbly and with the commitment to move forward positively."

Prosecutors say from October 2010 through January 2011, Walker sexually assaulted or had improper sexual or personal contact with at least 10 female recruits. Lackland is where all Air Force recruits go through basic training.

Several of Walker's alleged victims testified during his court-martial, including one who described how Walker lured her into an office and sexually assaulted her on a bed, ignoring her pleas to stop. The Associated Press does not usually identify sexual assault victims.

Five of the women testified Saturday at Walker's sentencing, saying they couldn't sleep or maintain relationships with men after the assaults. They said Walker's actions eroded their trust in authority and affected their performance at work.

"It's gotten to where I had anger issues even at work," said one, who had left the military. "If anyone makes even the slightest sexual reference, I go off. I have zero self-control."

The other four are still in the military. One said it affected her tour in Afghanistan because she felt uncomfortable being alone with men.

"It's made it extremely hard to interact with authority figures," she said. "During my tour in Afghanistan, I was a little bit more scared of everything. I can't work with certain individuals just since they remind me of Staff Sgt. Walker."

Another said her 15-year-old sister was interested in joining the Air Force, but she "absolutely" wouldn't allow it.

The women told jurors during the trial that Walker gained their trust to get them alone in his office or an empty dormitory, where he then forced them into kissing, touching or intercourse. The alleged sexual misconduct among instructors at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first woman didn't come forward until last year. The women who testified against Walker said they didn't tell anybody at first because they feared being booted from the Air Force.

But at least one said her career was destroyed nonetheless.

"I don't enjoy the military anymore," she said during Saturday's sentencing. "I don't want to be in it. I'm scared to open my door to anyone."

According to prosecutors, Walker had sexual intercourse with four of the 10 female recruits. He was also accused of making flirtatious or sexually suggestive comments, sending inappropriate text messages and sometimes groping his recruits.

Prosecutors also accused Walker of forcing five recruits to engage in sexual acts with him by threatening their military careers, and they said he intimidated two of the women into lying about his alleged misconduct.

The defense noted that none of the victims had any record of receiving treatment or medication for anxiety, even though two said Saturday that they had seen doctors and taken medication.

Herbert O'Connor, Walker's stepfather, said Walker grew up in a tough part of Brooklyn and had talked of joining the Air Force since he was 14.

"All of his dreams are shattered and our dreams because I was so proud of him and the career he made in the Air Force," O'Connor said.

Walker's wife of eight years, Yeimi Walker, also cried during her testimony. She said her sons didn't understand what was happening to their father and she didn't plan to tell them for as long as she could.

"He's all we have," she said, noting that Walker supports the family as well as her sister and grandparents with his Air Force salary. Speaking directly to the jury, she said "spare at least some of his time in the sentence. I don't want my boys to grow up without a father."

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