SAN ANTONIO: An Air Force instructor was sentenced to 20 years in prison Saturday after being convicted of rape and sexual assault in a sweeping sex scandal that rocked one of the busiest military training centers in the U.S.
A military jury at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio found Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty Friday night on all 28 charges he faced, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. A judge consolidated those charges Saturday into 20, but that didn't affect Walker's maximum sentence. He could have received life in prison.
Walker is among 12 instructors at Lackland investigated for sexual misconduct toward at least 31 female trainees. Six have been charged with crimes, and the counts against Walker were the most severe.
The women assaulted by Walker said they don't sleep much these days and when they do, he sometimes haunts their dreams.
They testified at Saturday's sentencing hearing about being suddenly unable to relate to husbands, boyfriends and even fathers and brothers after they were sexually assaulted. One said her fear during a tour of duty in Afghanistan was heightened by soldiers who reminded her of her instructor, and she warned her younger sister not to enlist in the Air Force. Another said she's now afraid to be behind closed doors with any man.
Prosecutors said Walker used his position as a military trainer at Lackland to gain female recruits' trust, and then he made illicit sexual advances. Walker's court-martial included testimony from 10 women, one of whom wept as she described him luring her into his base office and sexually assaulting her on a bed, ignoring her pleas to stop.
Walker showed little emotion as the sentence was read, but he appeared to have tears on his face later as he gazed at his wife, Yeimi. Both had cried earlier, while asking the military jury for leniency and a shorter sentence so that he would be able to spend time with his two sons, ages 7 and 4.
"I ask for my family's sake, for my two boys right there," Walker said, wheeling around to look at the youngsters, who sat squirming and chattering back and forth with no understanding of the proceedings. "I ask that I am allowed to have a future with them."
Walker's stepfather, sister and wife all testified on his behalf, describing an earnest teen who grew up in a tough corner of Brooklyn, dreamed of joining the Air Force from the age of 14 and arranged to graduate from high school early so he could enlist.
"All of his dreams are shattered and our dreams because I was so proud of him," said Herbert O'Connor, Walker's stepfather.
Walker was taken after the hearing to a temporary lockup at Lackland to await transfer to a permanent prison.
The six men and woman who served on the military jury are barred from discussing their deliberations so it's impossible to know if the testimony swayed them. But the victims' testimony was equally as emotional. Five spoke during sentencing, including four who are still in the service.
"In Afghanistan, I was a little bit more scared of everything," said one, who said Walker sexually assaulted her last year, while she was a trainee at Lackland.
"I couldn't work with certain individuals," she added, "just since they remind me of Staff Sgt. Walker."
Prosecutors say Walker sexually assaulted or had improper sexual or personal contact with at least 10 female recruits from October 2010 through January 2011. The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexually assault.
The same victim said her 15-year-old sister talked about joining the Air Force, and "I've absolutely told her she's not allowed anywhere near" it. Other victims said they had the same advice for female relatives and friends.
"I don't enjoy the military anymore," one said. "I don't want to be in it."
Another victim spoke of being unable to sleep at night "because I somehow feel he terrifies me." That victim also said the trauma she felt from the assault continued to plague her after she left the military.
It's gotten to where I had anger issues even at work," she said. "If anyone makes even the slightest sexual reference, I go off. I have zero self-control."
Lackland is where all Air Force recruits go through basic training. It has about 475 instructors for about 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. While one in five recruits are female, most instructors are male.
While the alleged sexual misconduct among instructors at the base apparently began in 2009, the first woman didn't come forward until last year. The women who testified against Walker said they didn't tell anybody at first because they feared being booted from the Air Force.
But even those who remained in the service said their careers had been ruined by fear, along with every other part of their lives.
"Every time I'm smiling or I'm laughing, I feel like its fake because I'm empty," one said. "I'm not happy on the inside anymore. I'm not myself."