SAN ANTONIO — The jury is deliberating the case of a Texas Air Force instructor accused of preying on female trainees in a broad military sex abuse scandal.
Maj. Patricia Gruen delivered the prosecution’s closing argument Friday and called Staff Sgt. Luis Walker a "wolf in sheep’s clothing" who took advantage of already scared Air Force trainees. But Walker’s attorney, Joseph Esparza, argued authorities offered no other evidence during three days of witnesses besides the testimony of alleged victims.
Walker is charged with 28 counts, including rape and aggravated sexual assault involving at least 10 women in basic training. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Walker’s trial is seen as the cornerstone of a major investigation into trainers at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where every American airman receives basic training. Six instructors have been charged on counts ranging from rape to adultery. Walker is the first to stand trial.
Gruen said trainees arrived at Lackland "terrified" of their instructor, and Walker used that fear to take advantage of them.
"He is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consummate predator," Gruen said.
He took his victims to hallways and other areas where surveillance cameras would not catch him, she said. Women in separate trainee groups knew details about Walker that he had allegedly told them, such as that he had a vasectomy, Gruen said.
Trainers like Walker "rule their worlds," Gruen said. "They get off that bus and, bam! Their world is changed."
Esparza argued his client was being railroaded and described Lackland as a "rumor mill" where stories spread quickly.
"Staff Sgt. Walker is simply not guilty in this case. I know that sounds hard to believe given all we’ve heard but it is simply recitations of stories," he said. "That’s all these are. There’s nothing backing them up."
A six-man, one-woman jury of military personnel will decide the case. Prosecutors called 14 witnesses, including one alleged victim who gave a video deposition because she had recently given birth and could not travel to the base.
On Tuesday, one alleged victim fought back tears as she testified that Walker lured her into his office and sexually assaulted her on a bed, ignoring her pleas for him to stop. She and others told jurors they were afraid that reporting Walker’s actions would get them kicked out of the Air Force.
The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify alleged sexual assault victims.
The defense called just one witness, Tech. Sgt. Richard Capestro, who testified that instructors and trainees at the Lackland base are under constant surveillance and officials conduct surprise inspections of trainee dormitory areas without warning — seemingly attempting to cast doubt on the possibility Walker could have committed rape and sexual assault on the premises.
Capestro said there are cameras in the hallways and at least some of the stairwells around base dormitories, and that open microphones allow an official on duty in a control room to push a button and listen in on any activity in the dorms.
Esparza on Friday questioned why prosecutors did not offer video of areas where the abuse allegedly occurred, he said, nor offer DNA evidence.
"It doesn’t matter that they called more witnesses than we did," he said. "There is no individual corroboration for these claims, but we do have evolving stories that changed over time."
Lackland has about 475 instructors for the approximately 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. About one in five is female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a group of instructors, 90 percent of whom are men.
Once the case goes to the jury, under Air Force court rules, its members consider every charge and can reach a guilty verdict on each with a simple two-thirds majority vote.
If Walker is found guilty on any charge, sentencing begins immediately and is also decided by the jury.