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Air Force trainer acquitted in sexual assault at Texas' Lackland

September 12, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Female trainees march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Military prosecutors have investigated 17 instructors at the base.
Female trainees march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San… (John L. Mone / Associated…)

HOUSTON -- The latest development in the unfolding sex scandal at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base: An instructor was acquitted of sexually assaulting a boot camp graduate and now awaits a verdict on a lesser charge, a military spokesman said.

A military judge ruled Tuesday that military prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to support the original sexual assault charge, and the charge against the instructor, Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio, was reduced to one of wrongful sexual contact, according to Lackland spokesman Brent Boller.

Boller told the Los Angeles Times that Estacio pleaded not guilty to the sexual assault charge Monday, but guilty to other violations, including obstruction of justice and of violating a lawful general regulation and no contact order.

The airman had faced up to 43 years in prison if convicted before the acquittal. Now he faces up to 14 years, Boller said.

A jury began deliberating the reduced charge at 10 a.m. Central time Wednesday and was still out by midafternoon, Boller said.

Military prosecutors have investigated 17 instructors at the base, the busiest Air Force training ground in the country, and charged six. Three have pleaded guilty or been convicted, two of unprofessional relationships and a third of rape, Boller said.

Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, a former instructor, received a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted July 20 of rape and sexually assaulting 10 women — many still in their teens.

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Smith was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a reduction in rank to airman first class after he was convicted Aug. 1 of having an “unprofessional relationship” with a female trainee and fraternizing with another. He was recently released back to his unit, Boller said.

Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted in June to having sex with a female trainee, was given 90 days' confinement as part of a plea deal and also returned to his unit — despite later admitting to having sex with more than 10 trainees.

Boller said commanders could still pursue administrative action against the pair that might result in their discharge.

[For the record, Sept. 12, 3:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio had been convicted on a charge of sexual contact. Actually, the charge against Estacio was downgraded to wrongful sexual contact, and a jury was deliberating a verdict on that charge.]  

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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