Jury deliberating in Lakenheath airman’s rape trial
A court-martial panel started deliberations Monday afternoon in the case of an RAF Lakenheath staff sergeant charged with rape of a fellow airman.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors in Staff Sgt. Aaron Ellis’ court-martial wrapped up their cases with closing arguments before the case was given to the nine-member jury.
Ellis’ attorney, Capt. Lauren Torczynski, told the panel that neither the alleged victim — a senior airman at the time — nor the accused were believable because they were both drunk when the incident happened after a Halloween party in Thetford residence on Oct. 28.
"This was an alcohol-induced haze," Torczynski said. "You can’t believe either one of these drunks and that is reasonable doubt."
Ellis, a nine-year Air Force veteran, is charged with one count of rape. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years’ confinement, a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a demotion to E-1.
As of press time, the panel had not reached a verdict. At least six of the panel members must vote guilty for Ellis to be convicted.
Ellis sat up, slightly forward in his chair and looked on with a blank expression during the proceedings. His mother traveled from California to attend the hearing.
The alleged victim, who is now a staff sergeant, periodically left the room during the hearing.
Neither side disputed that alcohol was at the center of what happened that evening, but the defense and prosecutors differed on whether drinking incapacitated the alleged victim to a point where she could not fend off any advances by Ellis.
"If somebody is too drunk to consent, that is sexual assault," the prosecuting attorney, Capt. James Gentry, said during his rebuttal to the defenses’ closing arguments.
At a few points, Torczynski got dramatic during her lengthy closing arguments. She grabbed her chair and brought it to the center of the courtroom to depict Office of Special Investigations agents getting in the face of the defendant to intimidate him during questioning.
Torczynski also questioned the written sworn confession investigators got out of Ellis during that questioning. "You have a confession that the government has absolutely hung its hat on and it’s faulty," she argued.
Gentry shot back during his rebuttal that the confession was not coerced out of Ellis. OSI agents had, at most, only 30 minutes with Ellis before he wrote his two-page confession, Gentry told the panel.
The alleged victim had no reason to accuse Ellis of rape, Gentry said. She could have not reported it if she was worried about her marriage or reputation, he added.