Court throws out Lackland trainer's rape conviction
By SIG CHRISTENSON | San Antonio Express-News | Published: September 27, 2014
(MCT) — In an action lawyers called exceptional Friday, an Air Force appeals court has thrown out a military training instructor's conviction for raping one of his former recruits at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
The rape allegation against then-Staff Sgt. Eddy Soto was based on the defendant's claims that they had sex by force. The judge in his case last year decided there was enough evidence to convict him.
But the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that testimony in the proceeding last year offered little support for the woman's claim.
“Based on these limited details in the record about the appellant's actions, we find the evidence factually insufficient to support the rape conviction,” the court said last week.
Soto was convicted in March 2013 and sentenced to four years in prison by his judge, Lt. Col. Matthew Van Dalen. He pleaded guilty to having inappropriate relationships with five women in 2011, but battled the rape allegation.
A married father of two children, he admitted having sex with a female in technical training at Lackland and another woman who had come to see her husband graduate from basic training.
It wasn't clear how the court's action would affect Soto's sentence. The Air Force said Friday that he remained in confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar while the government considers whether to ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision.
Soto insisted he did not rape the woman. Testimony showed that after she met Soto at San Antonio International Airport she went with him to his apartment. The woman said Soto hugged and kissed her, and that they had sex against her will.
Evidence showed they had an ongoing relationship after the incident. She remained at Soto's apartment after the sexual encounter, sleeping in his bed over the next five days. After returning to California, she sent him explicit photos of herself, told a friend she was dating Soto and flew twice more here to see him.
The court acted under a rarely used instance of the appeals court deciding that Van Dalen's guilty finding was factually insufficient. Lawyers say that unlike most civilian appellate courts, those in the military can review the facts of a case as well as the law.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice grants unique review powers to the military Courts of Criminal Appeals, and was a direct result of the draconian implementation of military justice during World War I and World War II, said Dru Brenner-Beck, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
“After WWII, many of the returning soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines complained about the administration of military justice during the war, particularly the harsh punishments and limited appellate review,” said Brenner-Beck, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “This history was significant for the Congress when it considered the UCMJ in 1950.”
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