07/09/13 — Airman's rape case begins in base court

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Airman's rape case begins in base court

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 9, 2013 1:46 PM

The court-martial proceedings against Tech Sgt. Floyd M. Jeter, an F-15E Strike Eagle maintainer on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, got under way Monday morning with pretrial motions. Opening statements were scheduled to begin this morning.

Jeter is charged with making false official statements, destroying or damaging non-military property, rape using force, rape causing grievous bodily harm, assault consummated by battery, kidnapping and obstructing justice.

There are two alleged victims.

Monday's proceedings focused on pretrial motions, including the defense's motion to dismiss the case because of actual or perceived unlawful command influence.

Attorneys argued that because of the current culture in the military, and specifically the Air Force regarding sexual assaults, their client would not be able to get a fair trial.

The issue of sexual assaults have become a primary concern of top military officials after several high-profile incidents, as well as a report earlier this year showing the number of cases on the rise.

The primary concern of defense attorney were statements made by President Barack Obama in early May in which he said sexual assaults and other misconduct would not be tolerated and recommended specific actions be taken against any military member found guilty, including the stripping of their positions and a dishonorable discharge.

The attorneys also voiced concerns about statements made by the secretary of defense, Air Force chief of staff, and others in the upper echelons of the direct military command structure. The problem, they explained, is that because those positions are in the direct chain of command, any statements regarding desired outcomes could be seen as orders to juries to come to specific outcomes.

And while the judge, Lt. Col. Josh Kastenberg, did not agree to dismiss the case on those grounds, he did agree to excuse any potential member of the jury who had heard of the president's or others' specific comments regarding sexual assault.

Of less concern, he explained, were the comments made by 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt during a congressional hearing on the sexual assault issue. The difference, he explained, was two-fold -- Congress is not in the direct command structure and so comments made by members are not as influential, and Col. Leavitt did not make statements recommending specific actions.