Soldier convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault escapes
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 20, 2009
VILSECK, Germany — A manhunt is under way for a U.S. Special Forces soldier who fled after being convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a German woman.
Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart — who was found guilty of multiple charges including kidnapping, forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual assault of a woman in an August 2008 incident — was last seen early Thursday morning by his escort at an on-post hotel.
Stewart, 36, is an Iraq war veteran who trains fellow Special Forces soldiers at the International Special Training Center in Pfullendorf.
“He’s an angry animal and not a human,” said the 29-year-old victim, standing outside the Vilseck courthouse Thursday morning after learning he had disappeared. “I know how dangerous he is. It’s impossible to believe that they left him alone last night.”
Sgt. 1st Class Detrick Hampton, a member of Stewart’s unit, was sharing a room with Stewart at the Kristall Inn, Vilseck’s on-post hotel.
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Hampton told the military judge that he last saw Stewart before drifting off to sleep early in the morning. When he awoke around 7:30 a.m., Stewart was missing, along with his Class A uniform, wallet, two cell phones and a rented black Audi Q5 SUV, Hampton said.
It was not clear whether Stewart had a weapon.
The U.S. military and German police are coordinating the search for the missing soldier.
A “Be On the Lookout” poster shows Stewart’s mugshot and advises anyone who comes in contact with the soldier to approach him with caution. It says Stewart has visible tattoos, speaks near-perfect German and may attempt to pass himself off as a German.
Master Sgt. Barry Beilhart, Vilseck provost sergeant, told the court that the Army has blocked Stewart’s identification card so that he will be detained if he attempts to access a U.S military installation.
Detective Daniel Lorch of the Böblingen police told the court that German police are trying to track a cell phone believed to be in Stewart’s possession. They are also investigating whether his rental car can be tracked using GPS.
Lorch, whose investigation of the rape allegation led to Stewart’s conviction, said outside the court that he was outraged that the U.S. military could let a convicted sex offender escape from one of its bases.
“He should have had a guard. He was found guilty last night,” Lorch said. “Under German law, we would have thrown him in jail from the beginning and brought him to court in handcuffs. Here he walks around as a free man. He’s found guilty, and he walks out the door. It’s ridiculous.”
U.S. Army Europe said it was researching the issue of persons charged with guarding suspects and could not comment. The U.S. Manual for Courts-Martial details the role of a guard in such cases. According to Rule 502 – Qualifications and Duties of Personnel of Courts-Martial, anyone who is not directly involved in the case can serve as an escort or guard.
Stewart, whose mother is German, testified during his court-martial that he is fluent in German and has received Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training. A medic by training, he had recently moved over the center’s survival division, according to court testimony.
Lorch said Stewart might seek refuge in the Bavarian Forest.
“If he’s in the forest, we won’t find him for weeks,” he said. “The guys from his unit have the same training. They have some chance to get him.”
But Josef Macha, a police officer in Regensburg, said police believe Stewart might be suicidal.
Hampton also told the judge that he was concerned Stewart might hurt himself. The pair stayed up most of the night talking, he said.
“He took it (the guilty verdict) pretty hard,” he said. “He felt like his life was over. He was worried about his family. He was worried about the sentence. I was worried about him. I’m still concerned.”
On Tuesday, government prosecutors built a case that relied, almost entirely, on testimony from the victim, who said she met Stewart at the See-studio disco in Böblingen on Aug. 22 last year and left with him expecting a “one-night stand” at her place. Instead, Stewart told a cab driver to take them to his hotel in the early hours of Aug. 23, where he persuaded her to come to his room for a drink, she said.
Once she entered the room, she endured a sadistic rape that included blows to the head and body, hair-pulling and biting, she said.
On Wednesday, Stewart took the stand and admitted that he had sex with the woman but told the court it was consensual.
During his testimony, Stewart said he left his wedding ring in his car before going into the disco because he was afraid of being mugged. He said he told his wife about his affair in November when she gave birth to his first child.
“I made a mistake because I cheated on my wife. I’m ashamed of it,” he said.
His civilian lawyer, David Court, pointed out that the prosecution case was based, almost entirely, on the victim’s statements and that, since she didn’t report the incident for several months, there was no forensic evidence to back up her claims.
He added that she didn’t leave the room when Stewart took a shower, didn’t call for help from a bedside phone and she wrote her cell phone number on hotel stationery in the room before she left the next morning.
During the court-martial, he was found not guilty of rape, abusive sexual contact and communicating a threat.
On Thursday, a panel of 10 male enlisted soldiers and officers sentenced Stewart to eight years in prison. In addition, he was given a dishonorable discharge, was reduced in rank to E-1 and ordered to forfeit all pay and allowances.
He could have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.