Accusations fly in Air Force rape case

Military sexual assaults are on the rise
WICHITA FALLS,TX Martha Cannon, who worked for Col. Samuel Lofton III when he was 82nd Training Group commander at Sheppard Air Force Base, said the rape accuser acted "like a schoolgirl" around him and went into his office so much that Cannon alerted her supervisors.

Cannon said the other woman, who earlier testified that Lofton forcibly kissed her and put her hand on his genitals on two occasions, always tried to get his attention, had "googly eyes" and got red-faced around Lofton.

"I would tell him she had a crush on him, was sweet on him," Cannon testified, saying the women initiated the flirting. "He would kind of brush me off."

Cannon was one of the last witnesses in the Article 32 hearing held to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial. The presiding officer has about a week to make his recommendation to top base officials, who then make a recommendation to top Air Force officials.

Lofton is charged with rape, being absent without leave, larceny, indecent assault, dereliction of duty, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If he goes to trial and is convicted, he faces up to life in a military prison.

After the two-day hearing, Lofton's lead attorney, Maj. Mark Etheridge, acknowledged documents related to the larceny charges but said that there was no physical evidence and that his client maintained his innocence.

"We believe that the evidence and testimony, especially with regards to the serious sexual assault allegations, produced what we believe any objective person would see as concerning," Etheridge said.

The two women testified Monday that they had never indicated romantic interest in Lofton. They also said they tried to stop his assaults. The Associated Press does not normally identify people alleging sex crimes.

Lofton was removed in May from his post, which he held about three years, after evidence of financial wrongdoing.

1st Lt. Clint Cooper, a financial service officer, testified Tuesday that Lofton used his government travel card to pay for his children's school lunches, buy airline tickets for relatives, eat out and pay a utility bill. Military documents indicate the charges add up to at least $10,000.

The 82nd Training Group provides training for head aircraft mechanics and engine mechanics and teaches airmen how to build and load bombs. It has about 2,100 students at a time on the base in Wichita Falls, just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border.

A Pentagon report last year revealed that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by about 24 percent in 2006. A 2004 report said sexual assault in the Air Force was more widespread than officials first thought.

Air Force teams found that many rapes were not reported because victims feared they would be disciplined, and that response programs for victims were inadequate.

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