82nd Airborne officer found guilty of 11 of 18 allegations of wrongdoing
By NATHAN HARDIN | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: June 13, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — An eight-member panel of Army officers found an 82nd Airborne Division captain guilty on 11 of 18 allegations of wrongdoing, violating three military laws, on Thursday night.
Capt. Richard Camacho was convicted of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual contact, seven counts of assault consummated by battery, kidnapping and indecent language. He faces life in prison.
Relatives of Camacho, who were seated in the front row, clasped their hands over their faces as the guilty verdicts were announced.
As the door to a jury room slammed shut about 10:15 p.m. Thursday, Camacho sank down in his black leather chair.
He stared straight ahead, his face and hands pale. A defense lawyer patted him on the shoulders as she passed.
Moments later, court officials called a medic for Camacho and he was escorted to a back room, having trouble breathing. He was later flanked by two friends and several military police officers as the men helped a nearly limp Camacho to a waiting Fort Bragg ambulance.
After almost a week-long court-martial, four lieutenant colonels, three majors and a colonel spent about three hours deliberating Thursday evening.
Jurors began deliberations about 7 p.m. At least six of the eight jurors agreed on the convictions; decision details are not divulged in courts-martial.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberating a sentence on the convictions Thursday night but were delayed after Camacho was taken away by EMS personnel.
Court officials said Thursday night that sentencing is pending on the condition of Camacho.
Camacho has maintained his innocence in the case and said the accuser, a former 82nd Airborne Division captain, fabricated the story to dodge a reprimand for a 2012 affair.
Prosecutors said Camacho beat and sexually assaulted the woman for several hours in Harnett County in November 2012 after learning of the affair.
The Fayetteville Observer is not naming the accuser because it has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault.
Defense lawyers for Camacho delivered some of their strongest evidence Thursday after obtaining some last-minute records. Defense lawyers Sarah Robbins and Allison Gerlach told the court Wednesday night that flight logs and medical records for the woman were not provided during the early litigation stages.
The woman said she suffered a ruptured eardrum during the assault and has since had problems with balance issues and double vision. She no longer is able to fly, the woman said.
But logs show the woman co-piloted flights on Dec. 5 and Dec. 10, 2012, and Jan. 25, 2013.
She also passed an annual medical evaluation Nov. 30, the records showed.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Danielle Fischer, an instructional pilot for the 82nd Airborne Division, told the court part of the woman's December flights were evaluations — including flying while wearing night-vision goggles, flying in clouds and flying with a gas mask.
Fischer told the court double vision can affect a pilot's ability to read cockpit instruments and to know if the aircraft is turning.
"It would be impossible to keep a proper heading and altitude," Fischer said.
The judge, Lt. Col. Deidra Fleming, permitted the records Thursday. The medical records, prosecutors said, should have been included in records the Army provided to the members of the court. The flight logs, prosecutors said, were not a part of the personnel record initially requested by Camacho's defense team.
In closing arguments Thursday evening, Robbins said the woman lied about the physical and sexual assault to ruin Camacho's career and to get herself out of the pending reprimand for adultery.
"She had motives to lie," Robbins said. "She had a lot of motives to lie."
If the woman had indeed been injured, Robbins argued, then she endangered herself and others by piloting an aircraft and failing to tell her superiors about the injury.
The defense called several medical officials, including Capt. Vern Wagner, a physician's assistant at Womack Army Medical Center, who told the court flying with a ruptured eardrum would be painful and dangerous.
"I would never allow a pilot to continue to fly," he said.
Robbins also said the woman failed to complete her annual evaluation by the end of November — making her latter flights illegal.
"And if she was cleared to fly," Robbins said, "how did she have the injuries she's alleged?"
During a rebuttal to the defense's final remarks, Capt. Vanessa Asmus, a special victim's prosecutor who is helping in the trial, gave one answer.
"She did it because she's a soldier," Asmus said, "and she soldiered on."
Part of the prosecutors' plan was to demonstrate the equipment worn by an 82nd Airborne Division pilot.
Capt. Kimberly Shelton, a prosecution witness, dressed in a combat body armor vest, flight vest and helmet Wednesday in front of the jury.
Shelton disputed the defense's insinuations that flight gear had caused significant bruising along the woman's legs, waist, backside and forearms.
Shelton said the gear was made to fit a soldier's body.
"I've never seen or heard of anyone being bruised from their gear," Shelton said.
Asmus, the prosecutor, saved her last salvo for the closing rebuttal — the final remarks of the trial.
The new flight logs, she said, showed that the woman piloted another 82nd Airborne Division aircraft July 22, 2013, months after she had been transferred from Fort Bragg.
At least one of those logs, she said, had been for a different soldier.
"This is not evidence that (constitutes) reasonable doubt," Asmus said. "It's Army paperwork."