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HEIDELBERG, Germany — A U.S. Army Europe noncommissioned officer is on trial this week, accused of having sexual relations with a minor.

Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Barberi, of USAREUR’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, is charged with sodomy of a child and possession of child pornography.

The alleged victim in the case testified that the sexual abuse began when she was 11 and continued until her 15th birthday.

The girl’s testimony came on the first day of Barberi’s court-martial. The child pornography charge stems from photographs of the naked girl, seized from computer disks taken from his home.

The maximum penalty for oral sex with a minor age 12 to 15 is 20 years in prison. Because of a statute of limitations, Barberi did not face charges for crimes allegedly committed while the girl was 11.

If he would have faced those charges, he could have been looking at a life sentence without the eligibility for parole, if convicted.

Barberi has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to his defense, the accusations are fabrications from a willful, sexually precocious, drug-abusing teenager.

"She’s lying," said defense lawyer David Court.

During her testimony, the girl spoke in a soft voice. She told the panel that Barberi would reward her for sexually servicing him by buying her things or giving her money.

She testified that she asked to stop the sexual relationship, saying she didn’t think it was normal, and that he had agreed to "closure" on the sex but had reneged until a final time, on her 15th birthday.

She finally reported the sexual abuse in late 2006, first to her mother, and later to law enforcement, because, she said, "It got too much for me to handle."

During his cross-examination of the teen, Court asked why she hadn’t previously reported the abuse during an earlier investigation in which a third party had reported to Army social workers that he had provided her with alcoholic beverages.

She replied that she had been frightened.

After the cross-examination, panel members, who unlike jurors in civilian trials are allowed to ask questions, asked the teen: "Explain how he made you perform oral sex without being physically abusive."

The girl seemed not to understand the question and said she couldn’t answer. Court looked at his co-counsel, and winked.

The girl remained composed through most of her testimony but after it was over broke into long, loud sobs.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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