McKinney court-martial begins Tuesday
Army's former top enlisted man faces sex charges
February 2, 1998
Web posted at: 6:46 p.m. EST (2346 GMT)
FORT BELVOIR, Virginia (CNN) -- Former Army Sgt. Major Gene McKinney faces court-martial Tuesday on sexual harassment and assault charges that could send him to prison for as long as 55 years.
The court-martial, expected to take about a month, will be held at Fort Belvoir, outside of Washington.
McKinney rose through the ranks over three decades to become the Army's top enlisted man. He was the first African American to ever hold the job of sergeant major of the Army, which advises the Army brass on issues affecting the 400,000 enlisted soldiers who constitute the bulk of the service.
But all that began to unravel when McKinney was named a member of a panel investigating sexual harassment in the military, created in the wake of a scandal among drill sergeants at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Angered by that appointment, retired Sgt. Major Brenda Hoster, who once worked under McKinney's command, stepped forward to say that she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by him. At least five other women followed, accusing McKinney of pressuring them for sex and, in some cases, assaulting or threatening them.
McKinney has steadfastly denied the charges. He says he is being victimized and singled out because of his race. He is black; all six of his accusers are white.
After a nine-week preliminary hearing last year, the Army decided that McKinney would face court-martial on 20 charges, including indecent assault, adultery and obstruction of justice. One of those charges was subsequently dropped.
He has already been replaced as sergeant major of the Army, though he remains a member of the service.
One key issue during the trial is likely to be the credibility of the women who have launched charges against McKinney.
During the closing arguments at the preliminary hearing, a prosecutor called them "heroes" who saw wrong and had the courage of their convictions to try to right it. But defense attorneys accused prosecutors of trying to "conjure up" enough complaints from enough women so that something would "stick."
The trial will be held before a panel of military personnel, not a civilian jury. McKinney's attorneys say they will not consider a plea bargain.
Correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.