STUTTGART, Germany — Lt. Col. Brian Lofton, an Army officer assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a woman at his home in late 2012, but the jury’s sentence allowed the 18-year veteran to remain in the service.
At a court-martial in Stuttgart, Lofton was found guilty of violating Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in connection with a charge he held the woman down and forcibly kissed the woman’s breasts against her will.
The jury sentenced Lofton to a reprimand, a $1,500 monthly pay forfeiture for one year and a two-month restriction that limits the officer’s movements to his home and his duty station. It did not, however, sentence Lofton to dismissal from the service.
Lofton was acquitted of two other charges: that he digitally penetrated the woman and that he grabbed her buttocks.
Prosecutors argued that allowing a sex offender to remain in the ranks would send the wrong message to troops, especially women servicemembers, who would likely be alarmed to serve alongside a convicted sex offender.
“Show what military justice can deliver,” Army Special Victims Prosecutor Capt. Meghan McEnerney said in her closing statement.
Under pending changes to the UCMJ, sexual offense convictions will automatically mandate dismissal from the service. That was one of the changes prompted by outrage over the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano airman who was convicted of sexual assault and dismissed from the service, only to be reinstated by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the Third Air Force commander who announced this month he is retiring in light of the controversy surrounding that decision.
“I think the sentence — no jail, no dismissal — reflects the fact that what happened is out of character, and Lt. Col. Lofton is a good person who deserves the right to continue in his service,” said Stephen Carpenter, Lofton’s defense attorney.
What happens next, “is an open question,” Carpenter said.
During Lofton’s court-martial, the 29-year-old woman, a local civilian, testified that after meeting Lofton at a downtown club, she and the Army officer struck up a friendly relationship on Facebook. After a couple of weeks, the two had their first date, which involved an evening of drinks and conversation at Lofton’s apartment. After talking for several hours, Lofton, who had been drinking, was unable to drive her home. Lofton offered to either call a taxi or let the woman spend the night at his apartment. The woman testified she elected to spend the night.
In bed, Lofton began to force himself on her, pinning her down as he kissed and touched her body, the woman testified. Fearing that the assault was going to escalate into rape, the woman yelled that she was infected with HIV, which ended the assault, she said.
“This idea came in my mind and it saved my life,” said the woman, speaking in English, who is not HIV-positive. “He didn’t touch me anymore.”
She then called German police, who soon arrived on the scene and took both the woman and Lofton in for questioning. The case was later handed over to U.S. authorities as is standard with U.S. servicemembers in Germany.
Lofton offered a different account of events, saying that he had engaged in consensual kissing and tickling. At some point, the woman “flipped” and went into a rant about “arrogant Americans” and sex-obsessed men, Lofton said. Lofton said he responded by telling her to get “the (expletive) out of my house.” According to Lofton, that somehow prompted the woman to declare she was HIV-positive.
“She was acting like a crazy person,” Lofton said.
Lofton said that while he engaged in consensual kissing with the woman he never assaulted her or touched her breasts or genitalia. Lofton’s testimony was contradicted by physical evidence, which matched his DNA to DNA found on the inside cups of the woman’s bra.
When asked how it got there, Lofton failed to give an explanation.
In a statement before sentencing, Lofton apologized to the woman and also appealed to the jury that he be allowed to continue serving.
“I still love this Army and everything it stands for,” Lofton said. “I just really still want to serve.”
During the trial’s sentencing phase, several officers who served as character witnesses for Lofton testified that they would be happy to serve with Lofton again despite his being convicted of a sexual offense.
The woman, whose family moved from Kosovo to Germany in the late 1990s, said testifying during the trial was like going through the assault a second time.
“I told him to stop and he didn’t stop,” she told the jury.