By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A woman testified at a U.S. Air Force court-martial on Tuesday that a training instructor accused of serial sexual assault started by flirting with her when she was in basic training, then hugging and kissing her and finally intimidating her into having sex with him against her will.
The unidentified woman testified on the second day of the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, who is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with ten female Air force trainees.
His is the first case to go to trial in the worst military sex scandal since 1996.
Walker is charged with 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault and adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If he is convicted, he faces up to life in prison, as well as a dishonorable discharge.
The woman, referred to only as victim No. 10, testified on Tuesday that Walker's attention was nice at first because it made her feel she stood out from the other recruits.
But nice turned to nasty when Walker ended one of their support sessions by "holding up his arms like a hug," she said.
"At first I hesitated because I know that is against regulations," she said. "But I didn't know what would happen to me if I said no."
She testified Walker kissed her on the lips and then quickly apologized. But about a month later, Walker called her into an office that had a cot in the back, sat on the cot, and suggested "with his hand gestures" that she engage in sexual activity with him.
"I said no several times, but he didn't accept that answer," she said, adding that although the two engaged in sex, she could not remember the details. The encounter was not violent, she said.
Walker, who has been joined by his wife in the small courtroom on the sprawling Lackland Air Force base where the service's basic training is conducted, carefully jotted down notes as the woman testified, and repeatedly leaned over to make comments to his attorneys.
WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING?
Lead prosecutor Major Patricia Gruen told the seven-member military panel that Walker is a "wolf in sheep's clothing," who used his authority as a military trainer to prey on vulnerable young women, away from home for the first time and anxious to make a good impression in their new military environment.
"Here sits before you a predator," she said.
But defense attorney Major Naomi Dennis said Walker is being prosecuted for "the way he looked" at recruits. None of the women are saying Walker used violence or threats, she said.
"Not one of the complaining witnesses went looking for OSI (the Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force law enforcement agency)," she said. "OSI went looking for them."
Dennis said the victim who testified on Tuesday displayed a photograph of herself and Walker on her desk at Lackland after she had graduated from basic training and had moved on to technical school.
Despite the very close quarters of a military barracks, no one in the woman's unit reported any unusual or inappropriate activity taking place, Dennis said.
A total of ten victims are expected to testify at the court martial, which will last into next week.
The scandal widened further on Tuesday as military officials confirmed that a seventh training instructor at the base has been referred for court martial. The instructor faces up to 43 years in jail for sexually assaulting a female recruit during basic training.
One of the accused trainers has pleaded guilty. Another five are expected to face courts-martial.
Another 35 trainers have been pulled off regular duty while they are being investigated. Thirty-one women have come forward with accusations and the investigation continues, the Air Force says.
There has not been a larger military sex scandal since a dozen officers and enlisted men were charged with inappropriate activity at the Aberdeen, Maryland U.S. Army base in 1996.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Todd Eastham)