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Air Force Major Acquitted of Lesbian Charges

August 16, 1996| From Times Wire Services

SAN ANTONIO — An Air Force major accused of having a lesbian relationship with a civilian woman was found not guilty Thursday in a case that her attorneys said violated the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for homosexuals.

A jury of five men and two women, all Air Force colonels, deliberated for seven hours before finding Maj. Debra L. Meeks not guilty of sodomy and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

After the verdict, Meeks put her head in her hands.

"This is a proud day for justice in the military," defense attorney Michael E. Tigar said. "Major Debra Meeks had the courage to refuse to accept an offer to plead guilty to something she did not do."

The military had offered her a plea bargain for which she could have pleaded guilty to an assault charge. Instead, she chose to fight, risking the loss of her pension and other benefits.

With tears in her eyes as she emerged from the courthouse, Meeks said, "I'm just glad this nightmare is over. My dog is at home and I'd really like to go home to my dog."

The prosecution's key witness in the court-martial, Pamela Dillard, testified that she had an intense two-year relationship with Meeks, 41, that included oral sex, and that Meeks sent her cards and letters about their affair.

"Those are not the letters that a friend would send to a friend. Those were passionate letters that one lover would send to another," said prosecutor Maj. James L. Flannery during the trial. "Sodomy? You betcha."

Tigar, however, questioned the authenticity of the correspondence and argued that written words are not evidence that homosexual sex occurred. Tigar also argued that even if the jury believed Meeks is a homosexual but didn't believe she committed sodomy, then it would have to acquit her.

Under the "don't ask, don't tell" rule implemented in the military in 1994, homosexuals are permitted to serve as long as they don't have sex with service members and keep their sexual orientation and conduct private.

Meeks denied the allegations. She never has publicly disclosed her sexual orientation.

Sodomy, defined under military law, is "unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex."

The jury deliberated at Lackland Air Force Base after hearing from five government witnesses. The defense did not call any witnesses.

Meeks, who was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly threatening Dillard with a gun, could have faced as many as eight years in a military jail, discharge from the Air Force and loss of retirement benefits.

Dillard testified she and Meeks began having a sexual relationship in Virginia in 1992 and continued after Meeks transferred to Texas. Dillard said she moved to San Antonio at the request of Meeks.

Defense lawyers contended Dillard moved to establish residency to attend medical school in Texas.

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