Jury finds cadet in rape case innocent


11 people testify that accuser was ‘untruthful’

By R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
THE GAZETTE

It took a military jury just 20 minutes to find an Air Force Academy cadet not guilty of rape Saturday, in a court-martial stemming from a 2003 incident in his dormitory room. Second-year cadet John Aguilar, 22, who could have faced life in prison, wept after the verdict was read. Prosecutors had said Aguilar was having consensual sex with a female cadet in October 2003 when the woman, in discomfort, told him to stop, but he didn’t.

The woman, who is no longer at the academy, did not report it until recently because she was confused about what happened, according to her testimony Friday. Prosecutors had no physical evidence of a sexual assault, and Aguilar’s attorneys called several of the woman’s friends and other academy officials who testified she had made no mention of it at the time. Several said the accuser liked Aguilar and even bragged about having sex with him. “She was visibly excited. She was bubbly,” cadet Ashley Korac testified about seeing her that night. “There was nothing obvious about her actions.”

Eleven current and former cadets and other academy personnel who knew the accuser testified she was “untruthful,” though none elaborated. One cadet whom she had told about the alleged assault testified he didn’t believe her because she was prone to exaggeration. Though she saw a doctor after the incident, the accuser said only that she had engaged in unprotected sex and was concerned about getting pregnant, and reported that there had been no assault. She didn’t report the incident until telling it to her current boyfriend, cadet Michael Schwartz, who testified that he urged her to report it. Aguilar’s attorney, Capt. Gwendolyn Beitz, said the sex was consensual, and the woman only decided it hadn’t been after the two split up. “When does she stop being OK with it? When John finds a new girlfriend,” she said during closing arguments. The Office of Special Investigation, she said, automatically assumed the woman’s version was truthful. “They started out that interview with the premise she was telling the truth. They never allowed she might be lying,” she said.

Beitz pointed out inconsistencies in the accuser’s version of events, and emphasized she had not told friends about the alleged rape. Prosecutors argued she did not report the incident for three years because she didn’t understand what had happened. “She’s a young girl. She’s a virgin, and she’s never talked about sex with a family member,” prosecutor Capt. Joanna Kieffer said. If she couldn’t recall some details about the incident, Kieffer said, it was because she was traumatized and “zoned out” during it as a coping mechanism.

Prosecuting attorneys declined to comment on the verdict, as did Aguilar’s parents, who were in the courtroom and wept when it was read. Aguilar’s attorney read a statement.“Cadet Aguilar and his family are pleased this is over, and he is just anxious to return to his military studies,” Beitz said. She said the court-martial will not affect his Air Force career. The jury was made up of three women and four men, all Air Force officers.

CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1605 or scott.rappold@gazette.com