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HEIDELBERG, Germany — A U.S. Army Europe sergeant was convicted Wednesday of the sodomy of a minor and possessing child pornography.

But by Thursday, one of Staff Sgt. Christopher Barberi’s guilty verdicts was already in question, after his defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had deliberately deprived them of some health records that could have been helpful to their case.

The judge, Col. Gregg Marchessault, denied a defense motion for a mistrial, saying the misstep did not cast "substantial doubt" on the fairness of the court-martial. But he did grant a continuance to allow defense attorney David Court to further investigate the information in the documents — such as counselors’ names, any mentions of the victim’s depression and reports of family conflict. If Court investigates the information and wants to argue again for a mistrial when the trial reconvenes next week, he can, the judge said.

The ruling brought a halt to the sentencing phase of Barberi’s trial after he had been found guilty of coercing a young girl to perform oral sex on him for years.

Barberi, former noncommissioned officer in charge for operations for U.S. Army Europe Headquarters Company, faces a maximum of 20 years on the sodomy conviction and 10 years for the child pornography — for nude photographs of the girl. The child pornography guilty verdict was not affected by the missing documents.

The continuance was the latest twist in a hard-fought trial and a strategic victory for the defense — even assuming the sodomy conviction stands — because the immediacy and momentum for sentencing was interrupted.

Panel members had stayed until nearly midnight Wednesday in order to reach their verdicts. The panel rejected defense arguments that the girl and her seriously ill mother had concocted the girl’s account of her abuse, and the suggestion that the nude photos of the girl — stepping out of a shower or raising her shirt — seized from Barberi’s computer were "possibly inappropriate."

The trial included detailed testimony from the girl, now a teen, who told the panel that Barberi had started sexually abusing her at 11, offering presents and cash to encourage her compliance. She said he told her, "That’s what little girls do…."

When she asked him to stop, he agreed, promising "closure," she said, but then had her do it once more on her 15th birthday.

She did not report the abuse until more than a year later, when she first told her mother, then Heidelberg military investigators. She chose to report it then, she testified, because Barberi had become physically and emotionally abusive and "I couldn’t handle it any more."

Court tried to persuade the jury that other people could have taken the other photos and put them on computer discs. But Court offered no explanation for pornographic stories involving children also found on a computer disc seized from Barberi’s quarters.

Prosecutor Capt. Todd Lindquist told jurors that although there were a few "nitpicky" inconsistencies in the girl’s testimony, it was overall true and convincing. "She uses an important word — ‘closure’. She told you that was his word," Lindquist said in his closing argument. "Who fabricates the word ‘closure?’ "

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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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