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McKinney's accuser says life made miserable

McKinney

Retiree who launched case refusing to testify

June 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:58 p.m. EDT (0158 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Navy petty officer tearfully told a hearing Monday that colleagues have made her life miserable since she went public with allegations of sexual harassment against Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney.

"People I thought I knew, I don't know," Petty Officer 1st Class Johnna Vinson told an Army hearing at Ft. McNair, called to determine whether McKinney, the Army's top enlisted man, should be court-martialed. "People are judging me."

Vinson said her life was made even worse when a Washington newspaper printed a story quoting a colleague who said she was prone to making up stories.

Hearing officer may try to force accuser to testify

If the case proceeds on to a court-martial, McKinney, 46, could face 18 charges, including indecent assault, adultery and obstruction of justice, that stem from allegations by Vinson and three other women. A conviction on all counts could result in a jail term of 45 years.

Court

In a separate development Monday, the hearing's presiding officer, Col. Robert Jarvis, said he would look into the possibility of calling McKinney's original accuser back to active duty to force her to testify.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster, a former military aide to McKinney, touched off the case against him with her charges that, while on a business trip, he propositioned her and grabbed and kissed her.

She has said she will not appear at the hearing, and, because she is retired, she cannot be compelled to testify unless called up to active duty. However, if there is a full court-martial, she could be subpoenaed to appear.

Charles Gittins, McKinney's lawyer, said it would take a decision by Secretary of the Army Togo West to recall Hoster to active duty. Jarvis said Monday, "I will let everyone know I am pursuing that," prompting smiles from both McKinney and Gittins.

"Ms. Hoster has no problem destroying ... McKinney's reputation on national TV," Gittins said during a break in the hearing. "How come she can't come here and testify under oath? That's the big question."

Gittins expressed skepticism that the Army will take the steps necessary to compel her to appear.

"I frankly don't hold out much hope that the Army leadership would have the courage to take a bold step like that," Gittins said.

Vinson: Colonel apologized for McKinney

Vinson, the third woman to testify about alleged sexual misconduct by McKinney, said she met him at a conference in Denver last August. Married and the mother of two girls, Vinson said that, during the second day of the conference, she noticed McKinney staring at her.

"It was long enough that I considered it staring," she said, adding that she gestured at him to ask, "What's wrong?"

"He said, `Never mind,"' she testified.

The next day, McKinney asked her to meet him in the lobby. She described him as acting very nervous and said he told her "there was something he wanted to tell me but he didn't know how."

Finally, he folded his arms and looked at her. Vinson quoted him as saying, "I like what I see."

"I said I was flattered, but no," she said she told him.

She said McKinney persisted. She said he told her that if she came to his room, "he'd show me passion like I'd never known."

Later, she told an Army colonel what had happened and said he "apologized for Sgt. McKinney."

The colonel asked her if she wanted to file a complaint and she said no because she thought it was just an isolated incident related to the recent death of McKinney's son in an automobile accident.

When Hoster came forward in February, Vinson said she decided to file an official complaint.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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