Major convicted of rape goes missing
Flight surgeon disappeared before sentencing
By ASHLEY ROWLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 3, 2008
KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — An Air Force major convicted of rape remained missing late Friday night, more than 15 hours after failing to appear for the sentencing phase of his court-martial.
Kunsan Air Base officials released few details on measures taken to track down Maj. Mark Seldes, a 40-year-old flight surgeon convicted Thursday afternoon of raping a civilian woman on Nov. 4, 2006, after she had taken the sleeping medication Ambien and fallen into a deep sleep.
Seldes, who worked at Kunsan until the court-martial began on Monday, was allowed to go home after the verdict was announced Thursday afternoon.
“There were no indications that he was a flight risk or a threat to harm himself or others,” Col. Charles Brown, commander of Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing, stated in an e-mail response to query. “However, we were concerned with his well-being, as we are with all military members facing courts-martial. His commander was aware of the judicial proceedings and personally contacted Major Seldes after the verdict to assess his mental and emotional state.”
Kunsan public affairs officials, contacted early Friday morning, were unable to say by 10 p.m. Friday what, if any, search had been conducted, whether the base had been put on lockdown upon learning Seldes was missing, whether South Korean immigration officials had been alerted, or what investigators were doing to find him.
The six-member court-martial jury began hearing sentencing testimony Thursday. They were put on break for most of the day Friday and heard more testimony beginning at 5:30 p.m. with the judge telling them that Seldes had “voluntarily elected to be absent from these proceedings,” and not to speculate on why he wasn’t there.
The jury sentenced Seldes to three years in prison and dismissal from the service for rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen, and adultery.
According to Seldes’ civilian attorney, Brent Harvey, Seldes’ wife last saw him at about 6:30 a.m. Friday, when she left the dorm to meet with Harvey. Her husband was taking a shower when she left, Harvey said.
The mother of the civilian employee who was raped said she was worried about Seldes.
“I’m concerned. I’m concerned about this proceeding, but I’m also concerned about his safety and his family and the additional emotional trauma it puts on my daughter,” she said.
The names of the mother and daughter are not being published to protect the victim’s identity.
Kunsan spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Alice Moore said Kunsan and local South Korean officials were working together “closely” to find Seldes.
She couldn’t say whether Seldes was considered dangerous, if his car was still on base, whether search and arrest warrants had been issued, or what made authorities believe he had fled instead of gone missing due to circumstances out of his control.
South Korean immigration officials declined to say Friday afternoon if Seldes had left the country or if they were monitoring the borders, citing privacy reasons.
Judge Col. Mark Allred excused the jury for most of the day, as investigators looked for Seldes and attorneys tried to decide what to do.
By late morning, Kunsan’s commander’s access television channel carried two pictures of Seldes and a request for viewers to call Security Forces if they saw him.
The victim testified last week that she and Seldes had a weeklong relationship, which included kissing and oral sex, before the rape.
They were watching television in her dorm room on the night of the attack when she told him she was taking an Ambien. She said the last thing she remembered was sitting on her couch and rubbing his shoulder. When she woke up, she said, Seldes was having sex with her in her bed.
She said she was groggy and immediately fell asleep but found a used condom in her bathroom trash can the next morning. Experts testified last week that the condom was later found to have both her and Seldes’ DNA on it.
Seldes had pleaded not guilty to all charges, but because of the conviction he will be barred from practicing medicine and will be forced to register as a sex offender, according to court officials.
“I’m glad it’s over,” the civilian employee said after the sentence was announced at 10 p.m. Friday, two hours after the jury began deliberating.
The doctor’s wife, Johanna Seldes, had traveled from the family’s home in Tampa, Fla., to attend the weeklong trial. She was scheduled to be a character witness for her husband but left Kunsan on Friday night, officials said.
Instead, Mark Seldes’ military attorney, Capt. Nina Padalino, read part of a written statement from Seldes’ wife to the jury.
“This misconduct was only a small part of who he is. I realize he has brought this upon himself, but please consider leniency,” her statement read.
Seldes, who did not testify during his trial, planned to testify during the sentencing hearing and read his own written statement, according to court officials.
His mother’s uncle, Dr. Lawrence Flesh, testified that Seldes was an “extremely ethical” doctor, an “absolutely superb husband” and a loving father to his 4-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter.
“I think he’s a family man,” Flesh said. “He cares deeply about his values, he cares deeply about medical care and he cares deeply about the Air Force.”
Prosecutor Capt. Derek Rowe asked the jury to dismiss Seldes from the Air Force and sentence him to eight years in prison, short of the life sentence and forfeiture of all pay and allowances he could have received.
“This wasn’t one mistake on one night,” Rowe said. “He pushed for sex the whole week, and he didn’t get it so he raped her.”
Padalino told the jury to consider Seldes’ 16 years in the Air Force, his family, and the fact that he was losing his medical career.
“One week of someone’s life should wipe out everything they ever worked for? Absolutely not,” she said.
Harvey, Seldes’ attorney, said that in nine years of practicing law he had never seen someone flee before sentencing.
“Anytime you have a verdict like the one yesterday, it is a difficult blow,” he said.