Women testify at military hearing that Air Force colonel sexually assaulted them

Eds: UPDATES with testimony from second witness.

By ANGELA K. BROWN

Associated Press Writer

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) -- Two women, civilian workers at Sheppard Air Force Base, testified at a military hearing Monday that an Air Force colonel sexually assaulted them, and one said he raped her.

One woman testified that Col. Samuel Lofton III forcibly kissed her and put her hand on his genitals and another time raped her, each time after everyone had gone home for the day.

She said after Lofton raped her, he asked if he could keep her pantyhose as a souvenir.

"I said, 'What are you thinking? Monica Lewinsky?"' she testified, saying she then threw the hose at him.

The testimony came on the opening day of Lofton's Article 32 hearing, which is similar to civilian grand jury proceedings, to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the case to a court-martial.

Lofton is charged with rape, being absent without leave, 20 counts of larceny, four counts of indecent assault, two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If he goes to trial and is convicted, Lofton faces a maximum penalty of life in a military prison.

Lofton's attorneys did not respond to phone messages left before the hearing seeking comment.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys asked if the alleged rape victim reported the incidents. She said she sometimes saw Lofton in the hallway after the incidents and that their interactions were pleasant and professional.

Under cross-examination by Lofton's attorneys, the woman acknowledged that she had signed a card for Lofton after he was removed from the 82nd Training Group in late May amid evidence of financial wrongdoing.

The woman wrote that Lofton had her "deepest respect" and said she was praying that he would "weather this storm," according to the message she read in court.

Lofton is accused of stealing about $10,000 over a two-year period and abusing his government travel card, according to military court documents. At various times Lofton allegedly was absent without leave from the base in Wichita Falls, just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border.

The Associated Press does not normally identify alleged victims of sex crimes.

A second woman, a civilian worker who was not supervised by Lofton, testified that he forcibly kissed her and put her hand on his genitals in separate incidents in her office in 2006. She said she told him to stop both times.

"I was thinking that if I don't push this man away from me, I'm going to end up raped in the middle of my office," she said, speaking haltingly and fighting back tears.

She said she told a superior about her allegations in 2006 but said nothing was done.

A third woman was expected to testify later Monday about Lofton's unbecoming conduct charges, which stem from allegations that he made lewd comments and tried to form a relationship with her, according to military court documents.

Lofton served as commander for Sheppard Air Force Base's 82nd Training Group, which has two squadrons that provide training for head aircraft mechanics. The group's other two squadrons train airmen how to be engine mechanics and how to build and load bombs and other weapons.

A Pentagon report issued last year revealed that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by about 24 percent in 2006.

A 2004 report said the sexual assault problem in the Air Force was more widespread than officials first thought, based on a four-month study of 85 installations in the U.S. and overseas.

Air Force teams found that many rapes were not reported because victims feared they would be disciplined, and response programs for victims were inadequate.

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On the Net:

Sheppard Air Force Base: http://www.sheppard.af.mil/