MANNHEIM, Germany — A U.S. Army Europe brigade sergeant major who’d admitted sexual contact with a low-ranking soldier in his command was acquitted Thursday of sexual assault, fraternization, maltreatment and adultery.

Sgt. Maj. Garry Tull shouted with joy, hugged his lawyers and began to cry after a court-martial panel comprising three other sergeants major, a lieutenant colonel, a major and a warrant officer acquitted him on all counts.

The accuser, who prosecutors said had not wanted to report the assault in the first place, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was delivered, about two hours after the panel started deliberations.

The verdicts were a stunning rebuke to the prosecutors, who’ve been engaged in a recent Army effort to deal more effectively with sexual assault in the ranks, encourage victims to report and gain expertise in how to investigate and prosecute cases.

Over four days, prosecutors had presented a narrative of a predatory E-9 who used his rank and position for sexual access to a timid 23-year-old specialist who was under his command and understandably afraid to cross him.

Tull had carefully selected the woman for her vulnerability, prosecutors said, bought her several drinks at the base bowling alley, told her he could help her career, followed her to her room despite her suggesting he not, then pulled her pants down and had sex with her against her will.

Afterward, Tull told her, "You can be my girl in Naples," the prosecutor, Capt. Sandra Leeber, said.

"He thought his reputation would carry him through, and no one would believe her," Leeber said in her closing argument.

Defense lawyer Guy Womack presented an alternative version: an outstanding NCO with a stellar career seduced by a knowing young woman, then betrayed by lies invented for unknowable reasons.

Womack brought in seven character witnesses, retired and active-duty soldiers and civilians from Germany and the U.S., who all testified to Tull’s impressive military bearing and his concern for soldiers.

Womack said that the sergeant major, who did not testify, had intended to have sex with the specialist, but was unable to perform.

"She wanted to, he wanted to, and he couldn’t because of his conscience," Womack said. "Because he has a conscience, even though he’d been drinking, even though she’s a pretty young woman, he couldn’t."

Previously, when facing charges for rape that were later dismissed, Tull said he had sexual contact with the woman, but it was consensual.

The events examined at the court-martial occurred last May when Tull, then the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army NATO Brigade, was visiting the soldier’s battalion in Naples to help select the unit Soldier of the Year.

In addition to the woman’s testimony, prosecutors presented undisputed evidence of sexual contact between the two, including DNA that matched Tull’s found on the specialist’s underwear. They told the panel that even if members "struggled" with the sexual assault charge because they did not believe the specialist’s account, they must find Tull guilty of fraternization and adultery.

"He was the brigade sergeant major and he had sex with a specialist. This clearly was against good order and discipline," Leeber argued.

Womack argued that the DNA evidence, which had far less sperm than is usual, showed an uncompleted sex act. He pointed out inconsistencies in the woman’s story, including the fact that she said Tull had worn a condom but no condom was in evidence.

Womack also told the panel that although Tull, 50, is married now, the prosecution had presented little evidence he had been married last year, and so he should also be acquitted of adultery.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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