STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Va., began Thursday to hear the case of former Green Beret Kelly Stewart, who is challenging his 2009 conviction of sexually assaulting a German woman, arguing that a military judge at his court-martial blocked key evidence.
Stewart made headlines when he disappeared shortly after the verdict, prompting a manhunt across southern Germany. After 48 hours, Stewart turned himself in.
Stewart was sentenced to eight years in prison, but the convening authority in the case, Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, knocked five years off the sentence and made Stewart eligible for parole by early 2011, according to the Army. Stewart, who is on parole in Virginia, maintains he is innocent.
At the time of his original conviction, Stewart, an Iraq War veteran, was assigned to a unit that trained fellow Special Forces soldiers at the International Special Training Center in Pfullendorf.
At the court-martial, the victim testified that she met Stewart at a disco, left with him and was persuaded to go to his hotel room for a drink, but then endured a sadistic rape, including blows to the head and body. Stewart told the court the sex was consensual.
Stewart, who is married to a soldier, was found guilty of multiple charges, including kidnapping, forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual assault. He was found not guilty of rape, abusive sexual contact and communicating a threat.
In his decision to grant clemency, Salazar erased the charge of kidnapping and changed Stewart’s dishonorable discharge to the less severe bad conduct discharge, according to the Aug. 26, 2010, decision, a copy of which the Army provided to Stars and Stripes.
Stewart is appealing his conviction, claiming he was denied a fair trial because the German government refused to turn over the mental health records of the accuser to the military court in Vilseck, according to his attorney, William E. Cassara. Without those documents, the military judge should have dismissed the case, the defense argues. Cassara said the military judge also erred when he prohibited the defense from questioning the accuser about her mental health history.
Salazar, along with the original judge and prosecutor in the case, as well as Stewart, have all declined to be interviewed by Stars and Stripes.
It could take several weeks for judges to decide whether to overturn the guilty verdict, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals’ public information office said.