A new law passed today removes sexual assault investigations and prosecutions from the military chain of command.
California has just made a major change in the way sexual assault allegations are investigated in the state military department. On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires sexual assault cases to be investigated by outside civilian law enforcement, not by military commanders.
“Soto faced as much as life without parole for the rape, one of six charges and eight specifications of misconduct.” -My SA
SSgt Eddy Soto was a basic military training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Soto was one of the 35 instructors courts martialed in what is referred to as the Lackland Sex Scandal. SSgt Soto was accused of unprofessional relationships, adultery, and the rape of one airman whom it appeared he had a relationship with. Investigators learned of the relationship Soto had with the airman who accused him of rape as part of a widespread probe into MTI misconduct. Soto faced life without parole but prosecutors asked for 12-15 years. Soto pleaded guilty to five charges and admitted that he had unprofessional relationships with a trainee and a civilian who had come to the base to see her husband graduate from basic training. He also admitted to adultery charges but he denied the rape accusation. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in March 2013. After his confinement ended, he would be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. Soto was the second instructor convicted of rape in the scandal. SSgt Luis Walker was the first conviction and he received 20 years for the rape of one airman and sexual assault of several others.
In an exceptional ruling by the Air Force Criminal Court of Appeals, Soto’s conviction for rape was overturned in Sept 2014. The military appeals court ruled the evidence was “factually insufficient” to support the conviction. In other words, there wasn’t enough evidence to find him guilty in the first place. The appeals court upheld the lesser charges of unprofessional relationships, adultery, and false official statement. The judge ruled the four year sentence and dishonorable discharge should be set aside and the case was referred back to the convening authority who had the authority to hold a new sentencing hearing. Soto remained jailed at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California while the government decided whether to ask the appeals court to reconsider their ruling. SSgt Eddy Soto served over a year and a half for a rape conviction that lacked evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Media reports stated Soto would be re-sentenced by a lower court for unprofessional relationships, adultery, and false official statement. Further on-line research did not find evidence of the final disposition of SSgt Soto’s case. We do not know if he was re-sentenced, released from prison and when, or if he was discharged from the military.
The findings of guilty for Charge III, Specification 1 are set aside and dismissed. The remaining findings of guilty are affirmed. The sentence is set aside. The record of trial is returned to The Judge Advocate General for remand to an appropriate convening authority who may order a rehearing to determine an appropriate sentence for the affirmed findings of guilty. If the convening authority determines that a rehearing on the sentence is impracticable, the convening authority may approve a sentence of “no punishment” or dismiss the remaining charges and specifications. –USAF Court of Criminal Appeals
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SSG Virginia Caballero, US Army Reserves (2014)
Honoring SSG Virginia Caballero, US Army Reserves, who became ill while en-route from Kuwait and then died unexpectedly shortly thereafter at a hospital in Rockford, Illinois on September 13, 2014. Apparently the commercial plane needed fuel and/or had to do an emergency landing for Virginia in Rockford, Illinois. It appears that they were on their way to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. According to reports, Caballero was a Reservist stationed with the 452nd Combat Support Hospital, 330th Medical Brigade out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin but trained at Fort McCoy prior to her deployment to Kuwait. She served in Kuwait for roughly eight months and for some reason was coming home a month early with a high ranking travel companion. Media reports claim she wanted to surprise her family in Texas. It is believed Caballero suffered from a blood clot which was exacerbated with the altitude on the flight. She was not listed as a non-combat death by the Department of Defense but this would in fact be considered a non-combat death due to medical. The family admits in newspaper articles that a lot of the details are sketchy.
Here are the questions we have after combing through the below articles. Why was she coming home a month early accompanied by a high ranking travel companion if she was going to surprise her family? Did something happen in country prior to her boarding that plane? Was this an early surprise for family in Texas or an expedited transfer from Kuwait back to the states? The military isn’t in the business of assigning high ranking travel companions unless there is an issue. Were there any concerns about medical health prior to boarding the plane? Where were they flying to? Rockford, Illinois is only a couple hour drive from Fort McCoy. Why did they not land the plane sooner at a larger airport like Chicago when the medical issues began to develop or the fuel began to get low? Why did the DoD not send out an official notification of non-combat death considering she was on active duty orders in support of war efforts in Kuwait? Criminal Investigation Division (CID) was assigned to investigate the cause of death of Virginia. The family was asked to submit a FOIA request for the results of the investigation.
SSgt Luis Walker was a basic training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After an investigation into allegations of improper relationships and abuse of power at the training facility in 2011, SSgt Walker was charged with sexual assault. One of his victims stated under sworn testimony that he had raped her. As a result of the courts martial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison as opposed to the original life sentence he was faced with. Shortly after the conviction, his wife spoke out publicly claiming that her husband was innocent and that he did not get a fair trial. SSgt Walker also echoed those sentiments when asked for a statement from the Air Force Times (see quote). A few months later, one of the victims in the trial went public with her story. Virginia Messick shared that she was raped by SSgt Walker and that it was a harrowing experience. She also later reported that she was facing battles trying to get disability benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Department of Veterans Affairs. SSgt Walker’s attempt to overturn the sexual assault conviction on appeal were eventually denied. It was only a few months later that he would be found dead in his cell at Fort Leavenworth from an apparent suicide.
“These setbacks have discouraged me and at times I have wanted to give up, but because of my family, I can not. I am a human being and an American, I deserve the right to a fair trial. There has been a lot of focus on the number of alleged victims in my case, instead of the charges against me, when in fact each charge should stand on its own.” -SSgt Luis Walker (Air Force Times, June 2014)