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Former Air Force Academy Official Justifies Conduct

THE NATION

April 16, 2004|From Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — A former Air Force Academy official fired amid questions about the school's handling of sexual abuse claims defended himself Thursday while testifying in a high-profile rape case, saying politics, not his conduct, led to his ouster.

Robert D. Eskridge, the former vice commandant of cadets, testified on behalf of cadet Douglas L. Meester, who is charged with assaulting an 18-year-old woman after a night of drinking at the academy in October 2002.

Eskridge, who had chaired a committee that handled sexual assault allegations among cadets, testified that he viewed the case "as consensual sex in the dorm by people who were underage drinking."

The woman has said she passed out and awoke as Meester raped her, but defense attorneys say she never told him to stop and did not resist. Meester, who is on leave from the academy, could face up to life in prison and dismissal from the Air Force if found guilty.

Eskridge, a retired Air Force colonel who now works for Lockheed Martin, testified at a hearing on a defense motion to throw out the case. Eskridge was fired in March 2003 and replaced by Col. Debra Gray.

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