The court-martial of a military investigator accused of rape and attempted murder in connection with the assault of a woman on the U.S. Marine Corps base here last spring began today under the close scrutiny of area civil rights groups.
The defendant, Cpl. Lindsey Scott, 27, also faces charges of sodomy and kidnapping in the attack on a coworker's wife who, a prosecutor said, was brutally beaten and "left for dead" in an isolated area on the sprawling base located about 50 miles south of Washington. If convicted by a seven-member court-martial panel, Scott could be sentenced to life in prison at hard labor.
Scott's civilian attorney and representatives of area civil rights groups have criticized the military investigation of the crime, alleging that Scott, who is black, may have been singled out prematurely as a suspect by investigators under heavy pressure from senior base officers to make a quick arrest for the April 20 assault.
Military investigators involved in the case testified today that the victim, who is white, failed to positively identify Scott as her assailant in photographic and physical lineups. Investigator James F. Lindner also said that laboratory analyses comparing the assailant's blood type, body fluids and hair with those of Scott were "inconclusive or negative" in every test.
Government attorneys acknowledged during today's day-long session in a small, sweltering military courtroom that their case would be based primarily on circumstantial evidence and the victim's tentative identification of the defendant.
Prosecutors contended that the woman, whose husband was assigned to the same security battalion as Scott, was lured from her off-base apartment by a black man who telephoned her, identified himself as a member of the security force and told her that her husband had been involved in an accident.
The man then picked her up in an automobile at her apartment and drove to a deserted area of the base where he brutally raped, choked and stabbed the woman, government trial counsel Maj. Edwin Burnette said in an opening argument.
Scott was one of two individuals the woman selected as possible suspects from the lineups, saying that both "looked like the man who attacked her," but that Scott "scared her the most," according to today's testimony.
Lindner testified that the arrest of Scott also was based on the victim's identification of the assailant's automobile, a yellow or gold-colored car similar to one driven by Scott. He said that a pail of cleaning supplies and bottles that the woman said she saw in the car later was found in Scott's apartment.
"It's an outrage that the military even chose to take this case to court," said Lori Jackson, who is monitoring the case for Women for Equal Social Justice, a civil rights organization. "It is a clear example of misjustice. I feel they were under pressure to get a suspect, and Lindsey was available."
Representatives of the Prince William County branch of the NAACP, including two former high-ranking black military officials, retired Vice Admiral S.L. Gravely Jr. and retired Army Maj. Gen. R.C. Gaskill, also have been watching the case.
Military Circuit Judge Lt. Col. H.S. Atkins today turned down a defense request to move the trial off the Quantico Marine Base. Defense attorney Ervan Kuhnke Jr. of Dumfries, Va., had argued in a pretrial hearing that special interest in the case by base commanders would prejudice Scott's chance for a fair trial.
The wife of a military policeman accused of rape and attempted murder broke into hysterical sobs within minutes of taking the witness stand on her husband's behalf today and was led from the courtroom screaming, "Just leave my husband alone, he did not do it."
"Why do you want to do this to good people?" Lolita Scott shouted as family members rushed past bailiffs to assist her out of the small courtroom at the Marine Corps base here. "Why are you making us suffer like this?"
Scott's husband, Cpl. Lindsey Scott, 27, who earlier today took the witness stand in his own defense, stood up, looking shocked by the outburst, and helped his wife walk through the courtroom door. Lt. Col. H.S. Atkins, the military judge presiding over Scott's court-martial, ordered seven officers sitting as jurors in the case out of the room as stunned attorneys and spectators looked on.
Lolita Scott returned to the courtroom minutes later, apologized to Atkins for her outburst, and then quietly answered a defense attorney's questions as a friend stood next to her at the witness stand.
Cpl. Scott, who faces charges of attempted murder, rape, sodomy and kidnaping in connection with an attack last April on a woman in an isolated patch of woods on the base, could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted.
The case has drawn the attention of the local civil rights groups, who said they were concerned that the charges might be racially motivated. Scott is black. The victim is a 23-year-old white woman whose husband was assigned to the same military police unit as Scott.
Marine Corps officials have denied any suggestion of racial bias.
On Wednesday, the victim of the assault stood before Scott, pointed a quivering finger at his face and said solemnly, "This is the man right here."
During photographic and physical lineups made shortly after the April 20 attack, according to testimony, the woman had selected Scott as one of two possible suspects.
Scott, testifying for more than two hours today, denied the charges. He testified he was cleaning an apartment he and his wife had just vacated and was shopping for birthday gifts for his wife on the night the assault occurred.
Scott, who worked in the criminal investigations division at the base, said he was one of several marines actively involved in investigating the case before he was told he was a suspect.
When the investigators drove out to the deserted area of the base where the woman was attacked, Scott said, "They the other investigators were all watching me."
He testified he was later informed that he matched the victim's description of the assailant and that his 1976 Skylark was similar to the description of the car in which she said she was abducted.
"I was shocked, I was hurt, I was upset," Scott said.
The investigators focused their attention on Scott as a suspect partly because the man who assaulted the woman had earlier called her apartment and identified himself as a member of the criminal investigations division, according to prosecution witnesses.
The witnesses testified the caller told the woman that her husband had been in a serious accident and that he would pick her up at her apartment and drive her to the hospital.
Instead, according to the victim's testimony, the man drove her to a remote area of the base, raped her in the car, dragged her into the woods and slashed her throat with a knife.
After he and his wife finished cleaning their vacant apartment, Scott testified, he stopped at his office on the base and several stores before returning home.
A jury of seven Marine officers tonight found a 27-year-old military policeman guilty of kidnaping, raping, sodomizing and attempting to murder a woman on the Marine Corps base here last spring.
The defendant, Cpl. Lindsey Scott, showed no emotion as the jury president announced the four guilty verdicts, but family members and supporters watching the proceedings appeared stunned, many of them bursting into loud sobs.
Scott's wife, Lolita, raced to his side, clutched him around the neck and began crying and screaming: "They can't take him away, they can't take him away from us." Scott, trying unsuccessfully to calm her, pleaded in a low voice, "Stop it, stop it," as he guided her out of the courtroom and into the hallway where family members and others had been praying aloud softly only minutes before.
The jury, which deliberated almost three hours after the week-long court-martial, will decide sentencing on Wednesday. Scott could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison at hard labor.
"I'm surprised and disturbed," said Scott's civilian attorney, Ervan Kuhnke Jr. of Dumfries, Va., as the crowd of family members and supporters who had packed the courtroom for the past week filed out of the tiny room. Many of them were sobbing and shouting.
"The conviction will be appealed," Kuhnke said.
"There was no justice in this verdict," said Nellie McLeod of the local chapters of Women for Equal Social Justice and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her groups, along with representatives of the Prince William County NAACP branch, assisted Scott's attorney in preparing the case.
The controversial case was closely monitored by representatives of the local civil rights groups, which criticized the military investigation of the crime, alleging that Scott, who is black, may have been singled out prematurely as a suspect by investigators eager to make an arrest in the assault of the white victim.
Military prosecutors acknowledged that their case hinged on circumstantial evidence, including a knife that Scott borrowed from his landlady the afternoon before the attack on the 23-year-old woman. The knife, which Scott said he had used to clean a stove in his apartment and inadvertently threw away, was never found by investigators, who alleged Scott used the knife to stab the victim.
Defense attorneys dwelled on the prosecution's lack of physical evidence. They argued that lab analyses comparing the assailant's blood type, body fluids and hair with those of Scott's were "inconclusive or negative."
"The government's case is based on an incomplete, inconclusive investigation, a poor identification and no positive laboratory evidence," defense attorney Kuhnke told the jury today in his closing argument. "There is too great a risk of convicting an innocent man."
Military prosecutor Maj. James Messer portrayed Scott as a military policeman who used his law enforcement training to erase traces of evidence linking him to the brutal attack on the wife of another military policeman here.
Defense lawyers argued that Scott was tagged as a suspect in the April 20 crime because the victim said she was called on the telephone by a black man who identified himself as a military policeman in the Criminal Investigations Division at the base.
"Military investigators saw that Scott was the only black criminal investigations officer on duty that night and decided he was the guilty man," Kuhnke charged in his closing argument.
The assailant, who spoke in a "calm, official voice," according to the woman's testimony, told her that her husband had been involved in a serious accident. He met her at her apartment building in the nearby town of Triangle, she testified, and drove her to an isolated area of the base where he raped her, choked her and slashed her throat with a knife.
Prosecutors alleged that Scott wiped fingerprints and other potential evidence off the doors and windows of his car after the incident. Scott denied those allegations from the witness stand last week.
Scott's attorneys argued that the clothes Scott was wearing the night of the incident did not match the description of the assailant's clothes given by the victim. Kuhnke also said that Scott's car did not fit the description of the assailant's automobile. Prosecutors countered that the clothing and automobile were similar enough in appearance to have Scott considered a suspect.
Lt. Col. Richard T. Harry, the magistrate who heard evidence against Scott at the time of his arrest in April, testified he ordered Scott released pending trial because "I saw no clear evidence. I saw no reason to retain Cpl. Scott."
Harry was dismissed as a magistrate shortly after Scott's release. Kuhnke contended the dismissal came because base officials were unhappy with Harry's decision to release Scott. Military officials denied that charge, saying Harry was dismissed because of problems base commanders had encountered with him.
Unlike civilian courts, the officer-jurors at the court-martial were permitted to question witnesses during the trial. Military regulations required at least a two-thirds majority (five of the seven jurors) for conviction. The jury's vote was not announced.
A Marine Corps corporal was sentenced today to 30 years in prison, stripped of his rank and ordered dishonorably discharged for raping and attempting to murder a woman on the Marine base here last spring.
The sentence was handed down by the same seven-member court-martial panel that convicted Cpl. Lindsey Scott, 27, Tuesday of kidnaping, raping, sodomizing and attempting to murder the 23-year-old wife of a fellow marine. Scott, who faced a possible life sentence, will be eligible for parole in one year, according to military officials. Several of Scott's family members and supporters wept quietly as the military court's president stood and read the sentence, in sharp contrast to the emotional chaos that erupted in the courtroom late Tuesday when the guilty verdict was read. For the first time in the week-long court-martial, guards were posted throughout the room.
In a statement read by Scott's civilian lawyer before the members of the court retired to decide the sentence, Scott maintained his innocence.
"He Scott states he's never hurt anybody in his life," defense attorney Ervan Kuhnke Jr. of Dumfries, Va., read to the jury. "He feels sorry for the victim . . . and hopes that whoever attacked her is eventually caught."
Scott, in uniform, sat at the defense table with eyes lowered as Kuhnke continued: "He believes he will be vindicated on appeal. He believes he is a victim like the woman who was attacked. "
At several points in the reading of Scott's statement, members of the audience echoed, "Amen."
Several members of local civil rights groups who had been monitoring the case stood outside the main gates of the sprawling Marine base about 50 miles south of Washington today in a misty drizzle, holding hand-written posters that read: "Serve your country, free Scott."
The groups, including the NAACP, Women for Equal Social Justice and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, contended that Scott, who is black, was charged after an incomplete investigation by officials eager to make an arrest in the assault on a white victim. Marine officials denied those allegations.
Today's sentence will be reviewed by the judge advocate and commanding general here before it is imposed. The base commander can reduce the sentence or let it stand; he is not permitted to increase it. The case automatically will be appealed to a Court of Military Review, and then may go to a higher Court of Military Appeals.
Scott will be confined at Quantico until some of the appeals process is completed, then will be transfered to a federal prison, where he will be required to work at various manual jobs until his sentence is completed, military officials said. He would be discharged from the Marine Corps upon his release from prison, they said.
The panel demoted Scott from corporal to private and ordered that he forfeit $500 of his $927 monthly salary and allowances for 36 months. Scott, who is married, will continue to receive the remainder of his allowances until he is released from prison and discharged, base officials said.
Prosecutors charged during the trial that Scott lured the victim from her apartment with a false report that her husband, also a military policeman, had been injured. Scott drove her to a desolate area of the base, raped her and slashed her throat with a knife, prosecutors alleged.
The victim's mother, addressing the court-martial panel before the sentencing, said her daughter is afraid to go out of the house alone, even during the daytime, and is "nervous and jittery."
"She doesn't sleep at night . . . she has nightmares about what was done to her," the victim's mother said. "We have to be very careful about what we see on TV; the sound of a woman screaming or crying sets her off."