SAN ANTONIO — In the oldest case yet in the worst sex scandal in Air Force history, a San Antonio sergeant has been charged with raping three women in situations dating to the early 1990s, commanders revealed Thursday.
Master Sgt. Michael Silva was charged with raping a woman in 1992 or 1993, and raping a recruit in basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in 1995. He's also accused of raping a third woman in 2007.
Silva faces life in prison on the charges. His first appearance in the rare case begins Monday, when an evidentiary hearing opens at Lackland, where Silva is assigned to a base support unit.
“I think it's fair to say it's unusual to try a case that old,” said Roger Canaff, a former civilian special victims' prosecutor who helped the Army with sexual-assault cases.
“And generally, it's probably the kind of case that you want to try if the investigation revealed some very strong evidence, usually some sort of confession or statement, possibly DNA evidence that wasn't available then,” he added.
The case is unlike any other to emerge from the scandal, which triggered congressional investigations and a makeover of basic training at Lackland.
Until now, no sexual assault or rape charge here had been lodged before 2008.
Congress eliminated a five-year statute of limitations for sexual assault in reforms passed late last year.
Canaff and other legal experts said there was no statute of limitations in rape cases.
Military law still includes the death penalty for rape, even though executions for the crime were ruled unconstitutional in a 1972 Supreme Court decision, said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.
The Air Force provided few details about the allegations or the incidents that led to the legal proceedings.
It isn't clear if Silva, whose support squadron oversees morale, welfare and recreation programs, has been jailed, confined to base or put in a special job.
Joint Base San Antonio spokesman Brent Boller also couldn't say if the recruit still was in the Air Force or how the cases were uncovered.
“We don't know exactly, but the investigation into MTI misconduct has been ongoing and email blasts were sent out to thousands of former trainees encouraging them to report any misconduct they may have been victims of or were aware of,” he said.
Until now, 34 instructors had been accused of misconduct with 68 victims, all but four of them women, since 2008. Twenty-six instructors have been convicted.
None of the victims in the previous cases had come forward on their own. While it isn't known if tips were received from the victims in the Silva case, Corn said the decision to prosecute Silva was driven by the Air Force's effort to uncover cases.
“When the institution makes a decision to surge resources to deal with this problem and to communicate to victims the importance of coming forward with allegations, I think it's inevitable that you're going to end up discovering cold cases,” he said.