Air Force Sgt. Convicted of Mistreating Women

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows Chief Master Sgt. William Gurney, a former top Air Force Materiel Command adviser at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. AP Photo

CHICAGO - Jurors in the southwestern Illinois sexual-misconduct military trial of a top Ohio-based Air Force official have convicted him of two of five counts, finding that his sexual advances toward two subordinates amounted to mistreatment.

The six-man panel of officers at southwestern Illinois' Scott Air Force Base acquitted Chief Master Sgt. William Gurney of three counts that alleged he fondled one of the women and twice abused his authority.

Gurney already had pleaded guilty to 13 counts alleging sexual misconduct and adultery.

Gurney faces up to 16 1/2 years in jail and could face a dishonorable discharge. A sentencing hearing is set for Friday.

Gurney was the top enlisted man at the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, when allegations surfaced in 2009.

"He used this organization like his own personal Match.com," Air Force Maj. Patricia Gruen told jurors of Gurney, who was the top enlisted man at the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, when allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced in 2009.

In addition to prison time, the 27-year Air Force veteran also could face a dishonorable discharge, be forced to give up all military pay and benefits, and see his rank reduced to the lowest level.

Under military law, adultery is outlawed because it can undermine order and discipline and discredit the military. A verdict in military court must be agreed upon only by two-thirds of the jury — in Gurney's trial, four of the six jurors — unlike a civilian criminal court that requires verdicts to be unanimous.

Gruen portrayed Gurney as predatory with women in the Air Force he found alluring, peppering them with unwanted sexual texts after the women turned to him for mentorship or, at least once, help with getting a transfer from a Texas base to one closer to her Ohio parents.

To his alleged victims, "he was Superman. They were flattered. They could not believe he was giving them any attention, much less direct attention," Gruen told jurors. But "this Superman charged for his services, and he charged what none of the witnesses wanted to pay."

Gurney "minimized them to body parts," Gruen added. "He takes what he can get. The problem with the chief is he doesn't know when to back off."

Gurney's chief attorney, Maj. Gwendolyn Beitz, countered that the women forming the basis of the five counts that were tried played along with Gurney in racy text exchanges she admitted were an unseemly "train wreck Chief Gurney created."

"No doubt that you disapprove," Beitz told jurors. "No doubt there's dismay that somebody who had risen so high risked it all" with charges that Gurney conceded during a videotaped statement to an investigator could cost him his career.

Beitz insisted the women blamed Gurney out of fear they would get ensnared in "an investigation they wanted nothing to do with."

"There's a possibility they're not telling you the whole truth up there," Beitz said.

Gurney, in court Monday, blamed extramarital affairs he had with married female subordinates and his inappropriate sexual advances toward others on getting "caught up in a cycle of sin." He said his indiscretions dating to mid-2007 included sex with four married, lower-ranking women in the Air Force, and he acknowledged exchanging sexually explicit pictures with some of the women and kissing or fondling others.

Among the charges Gurney pleaded guilty to were seven counts of dereliction of duty — one for each enlisted woman he was accused of making inappropriate advances toward — and four counts of adultery. He also admitted to using his military-issued cell phone and computer to exchange explicit e-mails and texts, and to having had sex with his wife in front of a married female enlistee whose husband was unaware.

Gurney had transferred to Wright-Patterson in 2008 from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he was command chief of the Ogden Air Logistics Center and 75th Air Base Wing.
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