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McKinney 'Betrayed His Trust,' Army Lawyer Says

Courts: Prosecutor closes arguments by ridiculing defendant's testimony in sex-misconduct case. Defense counters that he was 'absolutely truthful.'

March 11, 1998|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The five-week court-martial of Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney has clearly demonstrated that the Army's former highest-ranking enlisted man "abused his powers and responsibilities" by committing sexual offenses against six women, the chief prosecutor told a military jury Tuesday.

"It's a sad day for the Army," said Lt. Col. Michael Child, the prosecutor, declaring in closing arguments that the 47-year-old military careerist "betrayed his trust by acting in his own selfish interests."

McKinney's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, countered that McKinney, who has flatly denied all 19 charges, is "absolutely truthful . . . and his character and integrity are above reproach."

Col. Ferdinand D. Clervi, the presiding judge, asked the jury to begin deliberating this morning.

The charges against McKinney, the first African American to hold the Army's top enlisted post, could result in a maximum punishment of 55 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. The accusations include adultery, assault and obstruction of justice and involve events occurring from 1994 to 1997.

The court-martial is being conducted at Ft. Belvoir, Va., about 30 miles south of Washington.

Child ridiculed McKinney's testimony last week in which he dismissed the accusations of all six women.

Child challenged jurors to match "the believability of this witness against six complaining witnesses who trusted the system [of military justice] and suffered all the indignities and loss of privacy" accompanying their charges.

Disputing this interpretation, Gittins called the accusing women "liars" and said they are motivated by revenge against McKinney or troubled by personal problems.

He reserved his sharpest attack for retired Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster, McKinney's former speech writer and aide. The first woman to come forward last year, Hoster claimed that McKinney showed up unannounced in her hotel room while both were in Hawaii on business and crudely propositioned her.

"She was struggling in her job, and she didn't take criticism well," Gittins said. "McKinney told her that night he wasn't satisfied with her work, that it was time for her to move on. She was not happy about it, and she was going to get back at the sergeant major of the Army."

McKinney was removed from his post once others came forward with similar charges against him.

But Gittins said prosecutors were dishonest, molding the accusations of women to make them stronger, more specific and more similar to one another. Prosecutors even photographed one innocent location "with black and white film to make it look sinister," he alleged.

Hoster and three others testified under grants of limited immunity "to spare them from ever being prosecuted for anything they did," including in one instance a previous act of adultery with another man, the defense lawyer told jurors.

"The government is willing to excuse any misconduct to get Sgt. Maj. McKinney," Gittins said.

Child countered that McKinney sought to manufacture an alibi to try to refute one of the most serious charges, that he committed adultery with a subordinate, Sgt. Christine Roy, at his home while she was nearly eight months' pregnant.

Realizing Roy had told investigators the alleged adultery occurred the evening of Oct. 30, 1996, McKinney visited a do-it-yourself garage where he sometimes worked on his Volvo and signed his name on a log for 7:30 p.m. that day, Child said.

The crude doctoring of the garage record was done with the wrong color ink, the prosecutor charged.

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