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DARMSTADT, Germany — A jury cleared a Babenhausen-based soldier on Tuesday of raping his then-17-year-old girlfriend at his barracks earlier this year.

Spc. Michael D. Kienzle, 22, a native of Columbia, S.C., and a member of the Babenhausen-based 71st Ordnance Company, faced one count of raping a half-German, half-American high-schooler in February. Had Kienzle been convicted by the five-member panel, he could have faced up to life in prison.

On Monday, the accuser, who was the government’s only witness, said she had engaged in consensual sex with Kienzle — whom she considered her boyfriend — prior to the incident, which occurred in the wee hours of Feb. 7.

However, on the night in question – Kienzle’s 22nd birthday – she alleged that he raped her in his barracks, despite her protestations.

On the stand Monday, the slight 11th-grader looked much younger than her 18 years — she hunched, tears dripping off her nose, sniffling loudly, speaking barely above a whisper, studiously avoiding eye contact with Kienzle, who focused his gaze on her throughout her 2½-hour testimony.

“I was trying to push him off and asked him what he was doing,” she said through a translator. “He didn’t say anything. ... He just pressed against me harder and harder.”

“He told me,” she said, “I should stop acting like a little girl.”

However, Kienzle’s defense team argued that the act was more consensual than she alleged, quoting medical reports that found she had sustained no injuries as a result of the incident.

“They both took off clothes,” said David Court, Kienzle’s civilian lawyer. “There’s no force here.”

The two sides also battled over her use of what is possibly the least ambiguous word in the English — and German — language.

“No. Stop. No. Get off me. Nein!” said prosecutor Capt. Bill Whitman. “This is what [she] said. ... She said stop. She said enough.”

Court argued that the accuser did not protest strongly at the time, and challenged her credibility during three rounds of cross-examination.

“There is no physical or medical evidence to support anything she says,” he said.

After the verdict was read, Kienzle and his father embraced, relief evident on their faces.

“I need a drink,” said the younger Kienzle after pulling away.

Outside the courtroom, the accuser convulsed with tears as she hugged her half-sister.

“I’m upset,” said her father, an Army master sergeant based in Heidelberg. “But there’s really nothing I can do about it. My daughter has to live with it while he walks free.

“That little small word ‘no,’” he added, “that’s sometimes very hard to enforce and prove.”

Kienzle’s father, Rob Kienzle, 50, a police officer in Columbia, S.C., said he never believed his son had acted wrongly.

“I always drilled into him that I learned from my father: You never put your hands on a woman,” he said. “And I’ve never known him to do that.”

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