Military jury finds Air Force trainer not guilty

Air Force Tech Sgt. Marc Gayden

By SIG CHRISTENSON | San Antonio Express-News | Published: July 27, 2013

A military jury late Friday found an Air Force basic training instructor not guilty of raping a recruit in her dorm at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

After more than two hours of deliberations, the jury announced its verdict, prompting Tech. Sgt. Marc Gayden's wife to slam her hand on a wooden bar separating spectators from the court.

“I'm sorry,” she said, and started to sob.

The woman who accused him left the courtroom and jurors filed out, avoiding eye contact with Gayden, who had been charged with rape, forcible sodomy and trying to develop an illicit personal relationship.

His wife covered her face in tissue paper while crying. He had faced up to life in prison.

The jury's task in a case based on one woman's uncorroborated allegation was to decide if she told the truth about a Christmas Eve 2010 sexual assault or if she made it up.

A long list of witnesses who frequently gave conflicting statements left a minefield of unsettled facts for the jurors to negotiate.

“You can believe one witness and disregard the others,” Maj. Matthew Talcott, the prosecutor, advised the jurors.

The problem was which witness to trust — the woman identified as Airman 1 or the parade of enlisted personnel who took the stand in a trial that ran four long days.

Fellow trainers called to testify by the defense praised Gayden, an 11-year veteran, as a trusted leader.

“That man is probably the epitome of what an instructor should be,” said Master Sgt. Greg Pendleton, a 19-year Air Force veteran.

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the trial was whether Airman 1 could have been alone in the dorm on the day of the incident, and if Gayden missed physical training sessions, including one that day.

Airman 1 was nursing a bad ankle and stayed behind in the dorm. While they talked in his office, she said, Gayden tried to kiss her. It wasn't the first time she said he did that, but this time she accused him of putting a hand down her pants and pushing her into a chair, briefly forcing her to perform oral sex.

Afterward, she said, she limped to bed and cried, leaving her crutches behind. She said Gayden came to the bed moments later.

“'No one's going to believe you,'” Airman 1 recalled him saying.

She didn't report the incident until nearly two years later, when an investigator made a screening call that was part of an Air Force effort to learn the depth of misconduct at Lackland.

She initially denied anything happened, but later told him about the incident via email. Agents then asked her to email Gayden, who expressed shock at her claim and reported it.

Witnesses offered different accounts of whether Airman 1 was alone in the dorm and if Gayden missed PT sessions.

A supervisor, Master Sgt. Erskin McMickle, said no trainee could be alone in a dorm and “didn't recall Gayden missing any PT.”

But Senior Airman Marissa Strickland said Gayden was absent for a number of PT sessions after the second week of training — a period that included Christmas Eve.

Houston defense attorney Guy Womack charged in his closing statement that Airman 1 made up the story in hopes of moving closer to her second husband as their marriage was coming apart.

They eventually divorced.

“She had a motive to make up this story if only to get (her husband) closer to her or to get the Air Force to give her a humanitarian transfer,” he said.

Talcott, the prosecutor, asked jurors what she had to gain in a trial and told them, “She trusted you before she even knew who you were.”