Details of affair emerge in trial of Marine charged in traffic death of musician
January 26, 2006
QUANTICO MARINE BASE, Va. — The atmosphere inside the courtroom where a Marine embassy guard is facing charges in the death of a Romanian rock star was tense Wednesday as the jury heard details of an adulterous affair from Ilse Wentworth, the woman involved.
Wentworth, the daughter of a State Department official stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, told the seven-member court-martial board that she had had relations Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem while he was commander of the Marine security detachment there.
VanGoethem is accused of adultery, obstructing justice, making false statements and negligent homicide after a Dec. 4, 2004, collision between his vehicle and a cab ferrying musician Teofil Peter.
Peter, sometimes described as Romania’s version of rock star Bono, died on the scene.
If found guilty of all four charges and given the maximum punishment, VanGoethem, 33, could receive a dishonorable discharge and spend up to 14 years in military jail.
Wednesday’s testimony dealt with the adultery charge. Unlike the civilian world, in the military adultery is a criminal offense.
Wentworth took the stand wearing a black sweater and black slacks. The courtroom was so quiet that observers could hear the buzzing of the fluorescent lights as she began.
Wentworth said she and VanGoethem met in June 2004, one year after VanGoethem, his wife Kathy, and their two young children moved to Bucharest on an 18-month assignment.
At first, Wentworth’s friendship was with Kathy, whom she saw “every day” as embassy secretaries.
By September 2004, however, Wentworth and her friend’s husband “started hanging out [alone], just the two of us,” she said.
In early November, “we kissed” for the first time, Wentworth said.
The kiss was followed by a first sexual encounter in VanGoethem’s office in the basement of the embassy. VanGoethem was on duty at the time, she said.
Wentworth recounted four trysts, including Dec. 3, after VanGoethem’s wife had left for the United States ahead of her husband, when the two attended a Christmas party at the ambassador’s residence.
VanGoethem and Wentworth left the party and went to a local bar called Coyote Ugly. At the bar, however, the pair ran into other Marine guards, Wentworth said.
Saying she felt “uncomfortable,” they went to another bar called Planter’s.
Wentworth has given four different versions what happened next, chief defender Marine Maj. Phillip Stackhouse noted during his cross-examination.
At 4:30 a.m., VanGoethem drove to Wentworth’s parents’ house, where she was living with her family, she said.
Shortly after she had been dropped off, Wentworth received a call on her cell phone from VanGoethem.
He said that there had been “a really bad [traffic] accident, the passenger might be dead, and it was getting really scary,” with a mob forming around the vehicle, she said.
She also said VanGoethem asked her to tell investigators that the couple had gone to a pizza place after leaving Planter’s.
What they really did, she said, was go to VanGoethem’s home, where they had sex and fell asleep.
Wentworth said she lied to investigators, “first, because Staff Sgt. VanGoethem asked me to; and second, because the main part of the investigation was about the accident.”