Female Cadets Often Receive Lighter Sentences at the Air Force Academy


Article Reprinted in full from THE GAZETTE Relationship complicates AFA case (3/24/04)

Accuser had explicit online chats with alleged rapist

By PAM ZUBECK THE GAZETTE

A former female Air Force Academy cadet who has complained bitterly on national television that her rape allegation was mishandled engaged in sexually explicit online chats with her alleged attacker, according to investigative files.

The files show Kira Mountjoy-Pepka gave her appraisal of her alleged attacker Doncosta Seawell's anatomy, stated her sexual desires in graphic detail and lightheartedly discussed encounters between them.

When appearing on ABC's "20/20" show on Feb. 28, 2003, and again on Oprah Winfrey's Dec. 8, 2003, broadcast, however, she claimed she was brutally raped and then scolded by academy officials for being "a slut." The academy didn't prosecute Seawell.

Seawell claims Mountjoy-Pepka was a willing participant in several interludes in academy dorm rooms in the winter of 2002.

"I've never raped, maimed or intentionally caused anyone bodily harm," he told The Gazette. "What I did do was get myself into compromising situations by being sexually promiscuous."

Seawell, though, pleaded guilty to sodomizing a civilian woman in Los Angeles.

The lurid tale of the relationship between Mountjoy-Pepka and Seawell shows how murky sexual assault investigations can be.

The case is important, because Mountjoy-Pepka and others allege the academy didn't prosecute cases vigorously.

Those claims have triggered a flurry of policy changes, a housecleaning of academy leaders, an Air Force-wide assessment of sexual assault reporting procedures and several investigations, some pending.

No one familiar with the Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal denies the academy had a culture hostile to women. A congressional panel found sexual assault had become "a way of life" there.

The Air Force's investigation questioned the handling of only one case in the past decade, not Mountjoy-Pepka's. It also found prosecution often was stymied by alcohol use, delayed reporting, lack of physical evidence and previous relationships between the accused and accuser.

Mountjoy-Pepka's case illustrates several of those complications. There was no physical evidence because the incident wasn't reported for more than a month. She knew Seawell before the incident, and her boyfriend, not her, reported it.

Mountjoy-Pepka is among those who want to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee - a step toward getting money for alleged mistreatment and missed educational opportunities.

So far, the Air Force has refused to discuss a payment, but Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., was quoted in American Lawyer magazine recently saying the committee will consider making an exception to the law that shields the military against paying claims to service members.

Allard, who has been supportive of victims, said in May he had reviewed only a few of 57 cases reported to him and that some may have had "no basis at all." He said it wasn't his job to verify the stories.

This week, Allard declined to be interviewed about Mountjoy-Pepka's case after reviewing the online chats.

David M. Jaffe, a former military defense lawyer who defended rape cases at the academy and now practices in Denver, said the rape shield law bars delving into an alleged victim's sexual past to impugn her character. Evidence of prior sexual relations between a victim and accused, however, can be relevant to prove consent, he said.

Moreover, subsequent descriptions of the sexual relations that show a person's willing participation, such as in online chats, could be seen as crucial to demonstrating consent was given, he said.

Air Force and academy officials refused to comment, citing federal privacy laws.

Mountjoy-Pepka's father, Vincent, referred questions to his daughter's attorney, Joe Madonia of Chicago.

Contacted Tuesday, Madonia asked The Gazette to provide transcripts of the chats. He then said he didn't have to time to confer with cocounsel, Jim Cox, and his client to formulate responses to the newspaper's questions.

DIFFERENT STORIES

Mountjoy-Pepka arrived at the academy in June 2001. During basic training, she announced at a meeting of the 1,280-member freshman class, "I really like the guy girl ratio here at the academy, and I really like sex," according to a roommate's statement to academy investigators.

Mountjoy-Pepka met Seawell, a senior cadet flight instructor, in October.

In late December, Seawell was accused of sodomizing a Los Angeles woman who uses a wheelchair. He spent five days in jail before the district attorney refused to file charges.

The academy, though, decided to prosecute.

Seawell said he and the woman, 22, engaged in foreplay involving oral sex, but he grew nervous and couldn't perform because her parents were down the hall. Initially unwilling to cooperate with police, the woman later agreed to testify when the Air Force paid her from a Pentagon victims fund, Seawell said.

The Air Force refused to confirm or deny the payment. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department refused to release the incident report, and the woman could not be reached for comment.

The case pending, Seawell returned to the academy in January. He said he received a photo later that month on his computer of a scantily clad Mountjoy-Pepka.

"We had been talking for awhile by then, so it wasn't that big of a deal," he said. "It solidified the intention of where we were going with the relationship."

In February, the two began chatting online, Mountjoy-Pepka told investigators, mostly about sex and that it was "common knowledge" she was a "sex machine."

In an undated e-mail exchange contained in the investigation file, Seawell asked if she had ever fantasized about being raped. She responded: "I think almost every girl does."

Her account to investigators:

Seawell asked if he could bring a compact disc to her room. After returning from the shower wearing only her robe, she dressed in front of him.

She asked him to leave, but he began kissing her mouth and body. She thought if she allowed some sexual activity he would leave. She couldn't remember details.

The following Sunday, Seawell came to her room when she was in her underwear ironing her uniform. He chased her around the room, pushed her onto a bed, held her down and raped her. She didn't call for help because she wanted to avoid cadet discipline, she said. She laughed when he performed oral sex. A loud noise in the hall prompted him to dress and leave.

After that, she went to Seawell's room three times, including a visit that involved "sexual activity," but she couldn't recall if there was penetration, she told investigators.

She realized she'd been raped during the Sunday encounter after Seawell asked her for a character reference in April, she told investigators.

During a March 10 online chat, Mountjoy-Pepka doesn't mention rape. In a March 12 chat, she acknowledged it wasn't easy staying quiet during their encounter.

Seawell: "You weren't loud at all on Sunday."

Mountjoy-Pepka: "I was biting my lip. . . . When I'm free to do so it gets really fun."

She also talked about his anatomy and her fantasies of sex acts in graphic detail.

Seawell told The Gazette although they were both naked together several times, they never had sex. "There was a lot of heavy petting," he said. "We did everything up to actually having sex. I contend everything that happened was consensual."

The rape was reported to the cadet counseling center in April by Mountjoy-Pepka's boyfriend during sexual assault awareness week that included an advisory on amnesty for victims. He later told investigators she described an encounter in which Seawell fondled her as "no big deal."

Investigators interviewed Mountjoy-Pepka on April 22.

Within seven days, they questioned the boyfriend and her roommates. One roommate described Mountjoy-Pepka as promiscuous, and two others said she frequently talked about sex.

One said Mountjoy-Pepka talked of the sexual exploits with her boyfriend that had gotten her into disciplinary trouble.

The roommate said Mountjoy-Pepka feared she'd be booted from the academy.

Her boyfriend and her roommates declined to comment for this story.

Mountjoy-Pepka later left the academy. The academy wouldn't disclose why.

CASE GOES PUBLIC

In January 2003, the Air Force launched an investigation after receiving allegations the academy didn't fully investigate rapes and punished women for coming forward.

On Feb. 28, 2003, Mountjoy-Pepka appeared with several former female cadets on ABC's "20/20" program.

A reporter described Mountjoy-Pepka as sick and weak from mononucleosis when Seawell attacked her.

Mountjoy-Pepka said Seawell chased her and threw her around for two hours, threatening her with rank.

"He raped me. And the most horrible, heinous part of all of this is that he is a serial rapist and the academy knew it," she said on the show. "He was already being investigated for raping a civilian girl in his hometown, and I've heard the academy knew he'd also raped a cadet and the whole time he was allowed to wander around free."

Academy officials wouldn't confirm or deny any other allegations against Seawell.

Mountjoy-Pepka said Vice Commandant Col. John Rivers was far from sympathetic.

"For two hours, he just berated and basically told me I was a promiscuous little slut and I deserve what had happened, and nice girls don't let this sort of thing happen to them," she said on "20/20."

Rivers did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

In December, Mountjoy-Pepka's story and others were outlined in Vanity Fair magazine. She told the magazine she came forward to report her rape after hearing Seawell had been charged in the Los Angeles case. She said after reporting it, she was punished for being too affectionate with her boyfriend.

She also said Seawell threatened her. On the "Oprah" show, she was specific.

"A few weeks after I was raped, he called me to his room, held out a handgun and said, 'This is a just in case.' I thought he was going to kill me," she said.

Mountjoy-Pepka said the alleged rape made her break down.

"In the morning, I couldn't dress myself. I had a friend put toothpaste on my brush for me, because I couldn't do it," she said on the "Oprah" show.

During her television appearances, Mountjoy-Pepka didn't mention her repeated visits to Seawell's room after the alleged rape or her earlier online chats with him.

The handgun incident doesn't appear in her account to academy investigators.

Seawell said it didn't happen. He said he owned a gun, but he never had it out in her presence.

Seawell didn't deny his own problems at the academy. In a January 2002 letter to Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., who recommended Seawell for appointment, Seawell admits he broke many rules, including a ban against firearms in dorms.

Seawell said in the letter he was an intercollegiate boxer, but academy officials have said Seawell boxed only on intramural teams. Seawell said he never traveled with the team but was a member and has a Wing Open Tournament certificate to prove it.

Of chief concern to academy officials was a girlfriend's claim Seawell planned to fly a glider into an academy building, which Seawell denied.

For all those problems, Seawell was punished, placed on probation and recommended for expulsion. He blames his treatment on racism - a charge the academy denies.

"I don't want anyone to think that I was an angel, not at all," Seawell said. "I was an excellent cadet, but I made some bad choices that ended my career."

In October 2002, Seawell pleaded guilty in the Los Angeles case and was sentenced to two years in prison. He said he pleaded guilty after his academy lawyer told him a guilty verdict would bring a 10-year sentence. The lawyer declined to be interviewed. Seawell has appealed his plea.

After serving about 14 months, Seawell was released in late December, moved to Colorado Springs and was arrested in mid-January after his e-mail address was linked to soliciting sex from a 14-year-old female.

Seawell, in a military prison in San Diego, said he was at a bar with friends when the e-mail chats took place.