Jury rejects prosecution’s sex assault case against sergeant
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 27, 2017
VICENZA, Italy — An Army sergeant accused of stealing into a sleeping soldier’s room to sexually assault him was acquitted Wednesday after a three-day court-martial.
Sgt. Darien Shedrick was acquitted of abusive sexual contact, attempt to commit forcible sodomy and housebreaking. He was convicted of making a false official statement in an interview with criminal investigators.
The military jury on Thursday sentenced him to 60 days’ restriction and hard labor. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of a year in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
The case, according to victim advocates, represented a step forward in sexual assault reporting because male victims are far less likely than female victims to disclose being sexually assaulted or to seek services, according to a RAND Corp. study and Pentagon reports.
But Michael Waddington, Shedrick’s lead defense lawyer, said the case was pursued as “a homosexual witch hunt.”
The case was initiated last May after the then-18-year-old private first class reported that he’d been awakened in his bed in his barracks room by Shedrick tugging at his shorts, then saw that his pants had been unzipped and his belt buckle undone.
“He was angry that the accused had come into his room and tried to pull off his shorts,” the prosecutor, Capt. Andrew Warmington, told the nine-person jury in closing arguments. “He realized that he needed to have the courage to come forward ... so that another soldier wouldn’t wake up with the accused at the foot of his bed trying to take off his shorts.”
Shedrick, 35, had gained entrance to the room by telling the barracks charge of quarters that he wanted to check on the private first class.
In a videotaped interview with criminal investigators shown at trial he initially denied going into the room, then said he had but had not touched the soldier.
After an investigator told him that his DNA from skin cells could show up on the private first class’ clothes, Shedrick said he might have accidentally touched the alleged victim earlier in the evening as the two socialized in Shedrick’s room. The private first class had dropped a bottle of beer, Shedrick said, and he moved him out of the way to clean it up.
Shedrick told the interviewer that he was bisexual and that he and the private first class had been flirting. But he said he’d decided against pursuing sex when the private first class dropped the beer.
As it turned out, the only usable DNA found on the private first class’ clothes belonged to the private first class and another, unidentified person who was not Shedrick.
Shedrick’s smartphone, which the private first class had said Shedrick used to show him pornography, had no porn on it but, as the prosecutor pointed out, it lacked any browsing history whatsoever.
In his closing argument, Waddington said that authorities’ “confirmation bias” had led them to pursue a case he said was riddled with reasonable doubt. “If there’s no porn on the phone, they’re going to go to the grave saying there was porn on the phone,” he said.
He mocked a prosecution exhibit as “something a kindergartner would draw.”
The prosecutor told the jury that the case boiled down to two questions: “Why was the accused in (the private first class’) room and why was the accused so afraid to tell (criminal investigators) he was in there?”
But Waddington said that prosecutors had not proved their case. “You can’t guess a man into prison,” he said.