SAN ANTONIO — An Air Force instructor implicated in a sweeping sex scandal at one of the nation's busiest military training bases was convicted in military court Friday of raping one female recruit and sexually assaulting several others.
Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, the first Lackland Air Force Base instructor to stand trial in the scandal, was found guilty by a jury of seven military personnel on all 28 counts he faced, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault.
The jury deleted a clause from two counts that accused Walker of making flirtatious and lewd comments to trainees. However, it upheld the overall counts containing the deleted clauses, which accused him of trying to cultivate a sexual relationship with two trainees.
Walker faces up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge at his sentencing hearing, which starts Saturday. He showed no emotion upon hearing the verdict. Outside the base courtroom afterward, Walker was met by his father and other relatives, some of whom were crying. He will remain free pending sentencing.
Walker is among 12 Lackland instructors investigated for sexual misconduct toward at least 31 female trainees. Six instructors have been charged on counts ranging from rape to adultery. Walker faced the most serious charges and was the first to stand trial.
Lackland is where every American airman receives basic training. It has about 475 instructors for the approximately 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. About one in five is female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a group of instructors, 90 percent of whom are men.
The sexual misconduct at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first woman didn't come forward until last year. The first allegations were levied against Walker, who is accused of crimes that allegedly took place between October 2010 and January 2011.
According to prosecutors, Walker had sexual intercourse with 4 of the 10 female recruits. He was also accused of making flirtatious or sexually suggestive comments, sending inappropriate text messages and sometimes groping his recruits.
Walker also is accused of forcing five recruits to engage in sexual acts by threatening their military careers and intimidating two of the women into lying about his alleged misconduct, prosecutors alleged.
Several of Walker's alleged victims testified during his court-martial, including one airman who described how Walker lured her into an office and sexually assaulted her on a bed, ignoring her pleas to stop.
The women told jurors that Walker gained their trust to get them alone in his office or an empty dormitory where he forced them into kissing, touching and intercourse. Those testifying said they didn't tell anybody at first because they feared being booted from the Air Force.
The Associated Press is not naming those who testified because they are alleged sexual assault victims.
Meanwhile, the case of another former Air Force training instructor has been referred to a general court-martial, according to an Air Force statement issued Friday evening.
Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc is charged with sexual misconduct, obstructing justice and making a false official statement. He is accused of using his post as a military instructor to sexually assault and pursue a sexual relationship with one female trainee, and have a wrongful sexual relationship with another. No trial date has been set.
One of the other instructors charged in the case, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado, pleaded guilty in June, admitting he had sex with a female trainee in exchange for a sentence of 90 days' confinement. He later acknowledged he had been involved with a total of 10 trainees – a number previously unknown to investigators.
Start of War: Oct. 7, 2001
<em>American soldiers hide behind a barricade during an explosion, prior to fighting with Taliban forces November 26, 2001 at the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)</em>
Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: 88,000
<em>US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from the USS Bataan's Amphibious Ready Group arrive December 14, 2001 at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons. (Photo by Johnny Bivera/Getty Images)</em>
Number of Troops at War's Peak
<em>U.S. Marines begin to form up their convoy at a staging area near Kandahar, Afghanistan, as they await orders to begin their trek to Kandahar to take control of the airfield 13 December, 2001. (DAVE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the war's peak: About 101,000 in 2010. Allies provided about 40,000.
<em>U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House on June 22, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Withdrawal plans: 23,000 U.S. troops expected to come home by the end of the summer, leaving about 68,000 in Afghanistan. Most U.S. troops expected to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though the U.S. is expected to maintain a sizeable force of military trainers and a civilian diplomatic corps.
Number of U.S. Casualties
<em>American flags, each one representing the 4,454 American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, move in the breeze at The Christ Congregational United Church March 17, 2008 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. casualties: At least 1,828 members of the U.S. military killed as of Tuesday, according to an Associated Press count. According to the Defense Department, 15,786 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action.
Afghan Civilian Casualties
<em>Asan Bibi, 9, sits on a bench as burn cream is applied to her at Mirwais hospital October 13, 2009 Kandahar, Afghanistan. She, her sister and mother were badly burned when a helicopter fired into their tent in the middle of the night on October 3rd, according to their father. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Afghan civilian casualties: According to the United Nations, 11,864 civilians were killed in the conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began reporting statistics, and the end of 2011.
Cost of the War
<em>An Iraqi man counts money behind a pile of American dollars in his currency exchange bureau in Baghdad on April 11, 2012. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Cost of the war: $443 billion from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Number of Times Obama Has Visited Afghanistan
<em>US President Barack Obama speaks to troops during a visit to Bagram Air Field on May 1, 2012 in Afghanistan. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) </em><br><br> Number of times Obama has visited Afghanistan: 3 as president, including Tuesday, and 1 as a presidential candidate.