Tables Turned On Alleged Rape Victim

At 19 years old, Airman Cassandra Hernandez was living her dream. She was stationed at Pope Air Force base and hoping to serve her country in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Hernandez knew since middle school that she wanted to serve in the Air Force and having attained her dream, she felt that her whole life was ahead of her.

But that all changed one night in may 2006 when Hernandez went to a party. She drank far too much and ended up with three male colleagues back at one of their dorm rooms.

"It's kind of fuzzy because I only remember pieces because I was so intoxicated," she told The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith. "I remember saying no. I remember crying. I remember someone telling me to shhh. I remember trying to push them away. That's all I remember."

But Hernandez is clear on one thing: she says she was raped by all three men.

"And I remember afterwards I grabbed what I could," she said. "I left my purse, my shoes, and I ran partly clothed, barefoot across the base back to my dorm."

A friend took her to the hospital, where tests found she had a blood alcohol content of .11, but showed no injuries indicating rape. Experts say this is fairly common in rape cases involving alcohol. And Hernandez was sure enough of what had happened to make a painful phone call to her mom.

"I couldn't get the words out," she said. "I just kept crying. And I just told her that I was gang raped."

All three airmen were arrested. Rape charges were filed against one but in sworn statements, the men told another story. They say they were "just casually talking" when Hernandez "took off her top" and then "pulled down her pants." She says she doesn't remember doing it.

There are discrepancies in what they say happened next, but in their statements all three men say the sex was consensual. It wasn't until the end of the night that Hernandez started crying and ran off.

Airman Russell Basile, who initially was charged with rape, said Hernandez told him he could have sex with her. Airman 1st Class Jerrel Apache said she performed oral sex on him. Airman Rotez Butler also said he was given permission to have sex.

But Hernandez says it isn't possible that she had consensual sex with them and remembers saying no.

A hearing was set for December 2006 but facing intense pretrial questioning by the defense, Airman Hernandez says she lost confidence and decided not to testify.

"I just didn't think I could take it anymore," she said. "I just wanted to be able to go to work one day and not have to think about it."

As a result, the Air Force dropped the rape charges and now has filed lesser charges against all four airmen including Hernandez. She is charged with dereliction of duty for underage drinking and indecent acts for engaging in sexual activity with an Airman in front of two other airmen.

While all three men chose to accept a nonjudicial punishment called an Article 15, including small fines, extra duties and reduction in rank, Hernandez refused.

"I didn't accept the Article 15 because I did not commit an indecent act," she said.

So Hernandez is now facing a court-martial and likely taking the witness stand for the prosecution are the three airmen she accused of raping her. They've been granted immunity.

"Anything that they say in cooperation, in preparation or on trial can never be used against them," said Hernandez's defense attorney Capt. Omar Ashmawy. "So let's say they get on the stand and say they get on the stand and say yes, 'I raped Airman Hernandez,' that statement could never be used against them."

Her two attorneys never imagined they would be defending an alleged rape victim. Hernandez's attorney, Capt. Chris Eason, says "the system failed Airman Hernandez."

"She has alleged gang rape, but what we have discovered during the course of investigation into her allegations is that the facts were not as we first were led to believe," said judge Col. Tamara Holder.

The air force says it has evidence showing Hernandez wasn't raped - evidence that won't be revealed until the court martial on Sept 24. If found guilty, Hernandez, now 20, could face jail time, lose pay, rank and even be kicked out of the air force.

"I don't know what hurts worse," she said. "Is the fact of being raped? Or having my future taken away from me."

But after all this, she says she till loves the Air Force.

"I guess somehow things got wrong," Hernandez said, "But I still love the Air Force."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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