Marine sergeant acquitted in rape case
January 11, 2003
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — After almost four hours of deliberation Thursday, a court-martial panel acquitted a Marine sergeant of rape and sexual assault charges stemming from accusations he attacked a Camp Adventure counselor over the summer.
Sgt. Roberto Hernandez, 27, stood impassively at rigid attention as the verdict was read but heaved a sigh of relief after the judge released the jury of three officers and three enlisted members. He smiled broadly as he shook the hands of his three defense attorneys.
Hernandez’s accuser, who told a friend she’d been raped while drunk during a party, was not in the courtroom and could not be reached for comment.
Hernandez, scheduled to be discharged from the Marine Corps last month, also could not be reached after the trial.
He had been held in the Joint Forces Brig at Camp Hansen since July 30, after several people who attended a July 27 party in a Foster Towers apartment told military police Hernandez was alone with the woman in a bathroom when others at the gathering became alarmed the door was locked and forced it open.
Testimony varied as to whether she was naked or partially clothed but witnesses said she was lying face-down on the floor and Hernandez was adjusting his cut-off jeans.
The woman, a 23-year-old undergraduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, was on Okinawa as a volunteer counselor for the Camp Adventure summer youth program. She testified during the second day of a three-day trial that she remembered little about what happened in the bathroom the night she went with a friend to a drinking party in the apartment.
She said she later believed she had been raped but could not identify her attacker.
During closing arguments Thursday, Lt. Col. Peter Delorier, the lead defense counsel, described the incident as a “case of leaping to conclusions based on unfounded assumptions.”
He pointed out inconsistencies in the testimony of prosecution witnesses, calling them “irrational drunk folks in the haze of an alcohol party,” and argued that the minor bruises and lacerations for which the woman was treated almost 24 hours later could have been caused by anything — including the friction of clothing on a hot, humid Okinawa summer day.
According to the woman’s testimony, she spent the afternoon following the alleged attack shopping before she sought medical attention at Camp Lester’s U.S. Naval Hospital.
Delorier said prosecutors relied solely on the testimony of people who went to a party where “the whole purpose was to play cards and get hammered.”
“There were no eyewitnesses, no evidence of blood, no DNA samples, no pubic hair, no torn clothing” presented as evidence during the trial, Delorier added.
“When you hold the government to the required constitutional standard of proving beyond a reasonable doubt, there is only one appropriate conclusion in this case,” he argued. “That’s not guilty.”
Delorier also capitalized on the woman’s failure to seek medical treatment until the next night and her deciding to file charges only after a doctor at the U.S. Naval Hospital refused to treat her unless she did.
“How serious was she?” Delorier asked. “She was not very confident about what had happened.”
Some partygoers testified that no one reported the incident to police because they feared they’d get into trouble for participating in a gathering at which people, some of them minors, purposefully were getting drunk.
Capt. Mathew J. Kent, the lead prosecutor, had argued that Hernandez took advantage of the drunk and unconscious woman. The act of locking the bathroom door, then leaving the apartment immediately after he was discovered inside with the woman, pointed to his guilt, he said.
“What does that tell you?” Kent asked. “It tells you that he has a guilty conscience. It tells you he knew he did something wrong.”