Air Force officer aqcuitted of charge he groped woman outside Va. bar

 A jury has acquitted an Air Force officer who once led the branch's sexual assault response team on charges that he groped a woman outside a Virginia bar.

The seven-member jury deliberated about an hour after hearing closing arguments Wednesday in the misdemeanor assault case against 42-year-old Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski. His arrest fueled a national furor over sexual abuse in the military and whether top brass take the issue seriously.

A 23-year-old woman testified that Krusinski grabbed her backside on May 5 outside the Crystal City bar.

A bar employee testified that she also saw the grope, though she described it differently than the alleged victim. The employee said Krusinski had also groped her and another employee.

Defense lawyers argued there were inconsistencies in the alleged victim's story, particularly in how she described the aftermath of the attack. She admitted punching Krusinski a few times in retaliation, but other witnesses described seeing her hit him countless times, using her cellphone as a weapon - something the woman denied.

"Think about whether that can be an innocent misrecollection," defense attorney Barry Coburn told the jury of five men and two women. "She is grossly underestimating the number of times she hit him."

He also highlighted other inconsistencies. A police officer's incident report taken immediately after the incident said the woman complained that Krusinski grabbed her breasts and buttocks, but at trial she said only that Krusinski grabbed her backside.

Prosecutor Cari Steele said it's not unusual for witnesses to have slightly varied recollections of an incident, especially outside a bar where people have been drinking. But she said the focus on the woman's violent response is a distraction from the real issue - the woman's testimony that Krusinski groped her and then asked her if she liked it.

"What else would cause such a reaction" from the woman? Steele asked the jury.

In testimony Wednesday, several defense witnesses said they saw a woman repeatedly hitting Krusinski, though none saw the alleged grope that precipitated the fight.

Rene Miranda, who was at the Tortoise and Hare bar that night, said he saw the 23-year-old woman repeatedly striking Krusinski after a brief verbal altercation. Miranda assumed the two were a couple.

"That guy, he probably loves her a lot, because I wouldn't put up with that," Miranda testified.

After repeatedly striking Krusinski in the face with her cellphone, Miranda said the woman "changed her strategy" and started throwing uppercuts.

He said Krusinski did not defend himself.

Ray Martin, a bartender at nearby Freddie's Beach Bar, said that Krusinski's face was "just awash in blood" and that he immediately told a co-worker to call 911. He said that both Krusinski and the alleged victim appeared to be intoxicated.

The Air Force removed Krusinski from his post with the sex-assault unit after his arrest became public.

Krusinski could have faced up to a year in prison if convicted.