Air Force instructor sentenced to 20 years

(CBS/AP) SAN ANTONIO - An Air Force instructor was sentenced to 20 years in prison Saturday after being convicted of rape and sexual assault in a sweeping sex scandal that rocked one of the nation's busiest military training centers.

A military jury at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio found Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty Friday night on all 28 charges he faced, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. A judge consolidated those charges Saturday into 20, but that didn't affect Walker's maximum sentence. He could have received life in prison.

Walker is among 12 Lackland Air Force Base instructors investigated for sexual misconduct toward at least 31 female trainees, and he faced the most serious counts among the six instructors charged in the case.

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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.

Meanwhile, the Air Force said Friday that the case against another former training instructor was referred to a general court-martial.

Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc is charged with sexual misconduct, obstructing justice and making a false official statement. He is accused of using his post as a military instructor to sexually assault and pursue a sexual relationship with one female trainee, and have a wrongful sexual relationship with another. No trial date was set.

One of the other instructors charged in the case, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado, pleaded guilty in June, admitting he had sex with a female trainee in exchange for a sentence of 90 days' confinement. He later acknowledged he had been involved with a total of 10 trainees - a number previously unknown to investigators.

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.

Walker was convicted by a jury of six men and one woman. Under Air Force rules, the jury can declare a defendant guilty by a three-fifths vote on each individual count, rather than the unanimous decision required in American civilian courts.

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