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KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Government prosecutors called four witnesses to testify Monday in a court-martial for an Air Force master sergeant accused of raping a senior airman after a Halloween party last year.

Master Sgt. Garron Merritt, of the 8th Operations Support Squadron, also is accused of sodomy, burglary and adultery in connection with the case.

Civilian defense attorney Charles W. Gittins, from Middletown, Va., joined Kunsan area defense counsel Capt. Chad W. Cowan at the first day of trial Monday. Their client pleaded innocent to all charges before Col. Steven A. Hatfield, Chief Military Judge of the Pacific Circuit, from Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Weather conditions played a small role during the proceedings, with howling winds from Typhoon Ewiniar making it difficult to hear. And midway through prosecuting attorney Capt. Adam Cook’s opening arguments, the power went out for a short while. Lt. Col. Vance Spath, the Chief Circuit Trial Counsel Eastern Circuit from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., rounded out the prosecution team.

According to witness testimony, the senior airman and her best friend, a staff sergeant, drank wine in the staff sergeant’s room while getting dressed for a Halloween party on the night of Oct. 29, 2005. From there, they visited a squadron area where they had about six more drinks each while dancing with people, including Merritt. Merritt was scheduled to transfer from Kunsan the next day.

Staff Sgt. Charles Clark Jr., deejay that night at the squadron party, said the women showed up “a little tipsy,” and that he stopped serving the senior airman drinks because she was “way too wasted.”

Clark, responding to Gitttins’ questions, said he saw the senior airman dancing in a sexually suggestive way with Merritt at the party.

When the women left the party, they told Merritt they would see him later at the Loring Club, according to the alleged victim’s friend. They became lost trying to find another squadron party and the staff sergeant, feeling sick and wanting to call it a night, persuaded the senior airman to go back to her room instead of the club.

The staff sergeant testified that she stayed in her friend’s bathroom as long as she could, hoping that the other woman would “just go to sleep.” When she left the bathroom, the senior airman was lying on the bed. The staff sergeant said she told her friend twice to lock the door, then left and went back to her own room.

About 30 minutes later, she said, the senior airman called her, screaming and hysterical, to tell her that Merritt had raped her.

“She was just devastated,” the staff sergeant said. “Really in a bad condition.”

Gittins questioned the staff sergeant closely on several parts of her testimony, pointing out inconsistencies from earlier statements to officials and testimony at the Article 32 hearing.

He said that the staff sergeant seemed to have a “pretty good memory” of the events, even though she had the same amount to drink as her friend.

The two verbally sparred when Gittins tried to ask her whether the friendship might prevent her from saying anything that would make the senior airman look bad.

“I’m trying to tell the truth,” she responded, adding that her main concerns were seeing that justice is served and not perjuring herself.

When Gittins asked the judge to tell the staff sergeant to answer his question directly, Hatfield replied, “She has, twice.”

Hatfield did, however, tell the staff sergeant not to elaborate on questions requiring an answer of yes or no.

The trial was to continue Tuesday.


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