MIAMI - A Coast Guard jury panel decided Thursday not to punish U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Sheldon Bond, after he read a letter asking them to forgive him.
His wife, Crystal Bond, was in tears. She stared at the father of her two daughters intently. And so did the 31-year-old female former U.S. Air Force staff sergeant accusing him of rape. But the apology was not directed at her.
"I'm very sorry for what I have done, and if I could take that night back I would," Bond, 33, said in a brittle tone of voice. The judge, Capt. Christine Cutter, and Coast Guard Lt. Nicholas G. Smith, who was part of the defense team, asked him to read the letter loudly.
Jurors did not believe the accuser's account of Halloween weekend 2010. They found Bond not guilty of sexually assaulting her at a crowded bar and not guilty of raping her in his sister's house in Lexington, S.C. He wept after the acquittal Wednesday night at the Coast Guard's 7th District headquarters in Miami.
The Air Force reported the rape allegations to the Coast Guard January 2013. Coast Guard Investigative Services' Special Agent Walter Ortiz Jr. talked to Bond. He confessed there was sex and drinking that weekend. The jury convicted him of adultery, a charge related to behavior discrediting the armed forces.
Despite defense attorneys' relentless efforts to attack the accuser, she did not miss a day of the trial. Without medical records to back up her allegations, it was her story against his. She is married and pregnant, and is no longer with the Air Force.
U.S. Navy Lt. Matt Kozyra was defending Bond. He scrutinized inconsistencies in her statements. He also highlighted that witnesses described her Halloween costume and dancing as provocative. And he presented possible motivations for lying about being raped.
Air Force Colonel Lester "Andy" Huff was watching Bond's accuser and taking notes. She sat behind the Coast Guard's Lt. Frances S. Johnson-Gillion and Lt. Brendan Sullivan, who were the prosecutors assigned to the case.
As a forensic psychiatrist with clearance to view protected information, Huff sat behind Bond's defense team.
Huff had access to the mental health records of the former Air Force mechanic and other records that the defense provided. She was not his patient. But she gave up many personal rights when she signed up to serve in the military.
Without evaluating the accuser in person, Huff said Wednesday that he had diagnosed her with narcissistic personality disorder. The condition, Huff said, would cause her to be unscrupulous, selfish, lack empathy and have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment.
Cutter allowed Huff to testify. Sullivan said that the lack of personal evaluations, which the prosecution did not allow, decreased the reliability of Huff's diagnosis. Sullivan also questioned Huff's experience with diagnosing the "rare" disorder.
Nonetheless, it set the tone for Kozyra's closing statement. The defense attorney focused on how "crazy" her account was, and how any reasonable person would assume her behavior after the alleged rape to be that of a woman who had consensual sex.
"She would have you believe that one night he had a couple of drinks, turned into a monster, and turned into the weirdest guy," Kozyra said.
As Kozyra revisited Bond's version of what happened on Halloween 2010, his accuser shook her head from side to side. She sat slack-jawed and then whispered,"mother f-----."
Kozyra filled the gaps of Bond's allegations with assumptions that were based on Huff's controversial conclusion. He said that before the rape allegations became public, she thought to herself: "That can't have happened to me with everything that I have going on."
Kozyra said, "at this point, her narcissistic personality disorder takes over." She laughed loudly. It was the sort of laugh that implied that she thought the absurdity of his statement was too much for her to bare.
After the jury revealed the Coast Guard was not going to punish Bond for the charge of adultery, Bond and his relatives hugged Kozyra. Bond stared at his accuser briefly. His relatives also thanked Smith. Bond walked out a free man.
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