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Jury sentences Army sergeant to 25 years for rape

Standing

Latest developments:

May 6, 1997
Web posted at: 4:53 p.m. EDT (2053 GMT)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland (CNN) -- An army drill instructor convicted of rape was sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday, avoiding a possible life term. Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson would be eligible for clemency in five years, and eligible for parole in 8 1/3 years.

A court-martial jury also demoted Simpson to the rank of private E-1 and ordered a dishonorable discharge with all pay forfeited. Under military law, a single rape conviction carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Simpson showed no emotion while standing to hear his sentence. He hugged his mother, Edna, and kissed her forehead afterward and left the courtroom with his arm around his wife's shoulders.

"It's our contention that Sgt. Simpson did not rape anyone," defense attorney Frank Spinner said after the sentencing.

Army: Sentence sends message

But the Army saw the outcome differently. Lt. Col. Gabriel Riesco, chief of staff at the Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen, said the sentence sends a message that "those sergeants out there who are trolling instead of training should think twice."

Lt. Col. Gabriel Riesco reacts to the verdict:
Riesco icon The army's regrets
(16 sec./368K AIFF or WAV sound)
icon Ongoing investigation
(16 sec./336K AIFF or WAV sound)

"The Army regrets that we did not detect and prevent (Simpson's) reprehensible conduct sooner," he told reporters shortly after the sentence was announced.

Defense: Black sergeants 'an endangered species'

Simpson is one of 12 African-American staff members at the Aberdeen Ordnance Center and School charged with criminal sexual misconduct in an investigation prompted by trainees' complaints about him in the summer of 1996, more than a year after Simpson's first rape.

Spinner

Spinner said Simpson and the others are victims of racial persecution.

"The message this sends to drill sergeants is this, 'If you're black and a drill sergeant in the Army you're an endangered species,'" Spinner told reporters..

"I know that sounds strong but the Army has some serious problems in terms of how to define rape and how to deal with these issues," Spinner told reporters.

"If you're an African-American drill sergeant, any woman you go behind closed doors with can turn into a rape case," he said.

The NAACP has demanded an independent investigation of the Army probe, including whether investigators tried to pressure trainees to make false rape accusations, as some women have alleged.

Janice Grant, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter in Harford County, Maryland, called the court-martial a "kangaroo court." She charged Simpson was being used as scapegoat to cover up the Army's failure to stop illegal sexual activity between drill sergeants and trainees. icon (360K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Sentence is automatically appealed

The same military jury that convicted Simpson last week on 18 counts of rape involving six women deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours before announcing its sentence.

Aberdeen's commander, Maj. Gen. John Longhouser, must approve the sentence. He may reduce it but not add to it. The sentence automatically will be reviewed by the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sketch

Simpson will be given credit for serving nearly 14 months, even though he has been incarcerated for only about half that time.

The judge agreed to credit him with extra time because of what defense lawyers had argued were unnecessarily harsh conditions in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia.

During the prosecution's closing arguments earlier in the day, Capt. Dave Thomas called Simpson a sexual predator who was like "an animal" in the way he victimized the weakest soldiers under his command.

Spinner said Thomas was "trying to dehumanize" Simpson in hopes of getting a maximum life sentence. icon (349K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
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