SAN ANTONIO – An instructor swept up in a sex scandal at an Air Force training base in Texas was acquitted Wednesday of wrongful sexual contact with a boot camp graduate.
A military jury deliberated for almost five hours Wednesday before finding Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio not guilty of unwanted sexual contact with a recruit under his command, the San Antonio Express-News reported in its online edition.
Estacio pleaded guilty to other violations Monday and faces up to 14 years in prison, but the acquittal spared the Lackland Air Force Base instructor of up to 43 years in prison.
After the jury president read the verdict, Estacio appealed to the judge, Lt. Col. Matthew Van Dalen, for leniency.
The wrongful sexual contact charge was presented to the jury at Lackland on Wednesday, one day after a military judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to support a sexual assault charge.
The issue of consent was central to the prosecution's case. Prosecutors tried to show that Estacio pressured the trainee into having sex.
The defense, however, reminded jurors of the trainee's testimony that she had flirted with Estacio in a series of text messages and called him "sweetheart" and "darling."
Military prosecutors have investigated more than a dozen instructors at the base in San Antonio, and charged six. Estacio is the fourth instructor to go on trial.
All American airmen report to Lackland for basic training. It has about 500 instructors for about 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. While one in five recruits are women, most instructors are men.
In July, a military jury sentenced Staff Sgt. Luis Walker to 20 years in prison after the former instructor was convicted of rape and sexual assault. The counts against Walker were the most severe in the investigation.
Last month, the military ousted the top commander over the basic training unit at Lackland. In addition, Texas Sen. John Cornyn held up White House's nominee for Air Force chief of staff while pressing for answers about the scandal. Cornyn finally ended his hold on the nomination of Gen. Mark Welsh after meeting with him to discuss the scandal.