Sigonella sailor dishonorably discharged for assault, attempted rape
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Sicily — A Sigonella sailor was dishonorably discharged Friday after he was convicted of attempting to rape a fellow squadron member’s fiancée.
Following a weeklong general court-martial, a jury found Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathanael J. Wheeler guilty of attempted rape, two counts of forcible sodomy, indecent assault, indecent language, assault consummated by a battery and unlawful entry.
The victim in the case was a 19-year-old civilian visiting Sigonella from Brunswick, Maine. At the time of the incident, she was visiting her fiancé. Her fiancé and Wheeler are both members of Patrol Squadron 8, which was deployed to Sicily at the time.
Wheeler, 24, an information specialist from Johnstown, N.Y., pleaded innocent to the charges.
“He was specifically contesting whether an actual rape had occurred, and he was eventually found guilty of attempted rape rather than rape,” said Lt. Arthur Gaston, defense counsel.
The woman testified for more than an hour about the incident in her fiancée’s barracks room. She and Wheeler had briefly been introduced earlier that night, said Lt. Kerry Abramson, lead prosecutor.
“It appears he was walking behind her and followed her in there. She was oblivious to it,” Abramson said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “She was telling him to leave, telling him to stop.”
She testified she tried to run away and call for help, Abramson said.
“Petty Officer Wheeler is an opportunistic sexual predator who pursued his victim because she was drinking and vulnerable,” he said.
A Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent testified about two statements Wheeler gave. Wheeler, who did not take the stand, told NCIS at least part of the incident was consensual, Gaston said.
“The statements he gave to NCIS can be read different ways, which was part of the reason for contesting all the charges,” Gaston said. “The main issue of the case was whether the sexual activity was consensual or whether he was reasonably mistaken that it was consensual.”
The main difference was whether intercourse had taken place, Gaston said.
Wheeler also was sentenced to four years’ confinement, reduced in rank to E-1 and ordered to forfeit all pay and allowances.
He had faced life without the possibility of parole.