U .S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Sheldon Bond, who is being accused of raping a female U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, had a choice Friday. He could either be tried by a Coast Guard jury panel or a Coast Guard judge. He put his fate in the hands of a jury. His trial in Miami starts Monday.
Rear Adm. John "Jake" Korn, commander for the district, assigned 12 candidates for jury selection. There were only two candidates who were women. And one of them was dismissed, because she said she was a victim of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy before she graduated in 1998. She chose not to report it, but a friend told a chaplain, and there was an investigation, she said.
"It wasn’t supposed to happen," she said about the chaplain’s choice to disclose the rape allegations to authorities at the Coast Guard Academy.
For years, many women in the military complained about a systemic problem that was keeping perpetrators from being held accountable. And the Coast Guard has been slower to implement the Department of Defense efforts to solve the problem, because of its classification under Homeland Security.
In December, when Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 the changes included the Coast Guard. The legislation also ended the statute of limitations for cases of sexual assault or rape. Journalists from newspapers to television have covered changes.
"All members [in jury selection] have seen something about sexual assault cases in the media," said the judge, Capt. Christine Cutter, after taking a jury pool vote on their awareness of the "hot topic."
On Friday, Bond, 33, a machinery technician, was facing a different court-martial system than the one he would have faced in 2010 when the alleged crime happened. The alleged victim was serving in the Air Force in 2010 and is now a civilian, the Coast Guard said in a press release.
Bond was on active duty in Palm Beach County when she came forward. A Coast Guard spokesman said an investigation began March 2013, after the Air Force issued a notification of the report.
Investigators determined that there were reasonable grounds for a trial. Korn moved forward with the court martial. Lt. Frances S. Johnson-Gillion and Lt. Brendan Sullivan are the prosecutors assigned to the case.
The unidentified woman said Bond sexually assaulted her Oct. 29, 2010, and raped her a day later at a private residence in Lexington, S.C. And since Bond was married at the time, he was also being charged with adultery.
During a hearing Friday, Johnson-Gillion and Sullivan said they were waiting on communication records from Facebook and Sprint, which was asked to release text messages between Oct. 1, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2011.
Bond pleaded not guilty. During jury selection, he sat next to Coast Guard Lt. Nicholas G. Smith, who has been a Coast Guard military lawyer since 2012. U.S. Navy Lt. Matt Kozyra sat next to Smith with a new edition of the “Manual For Courts-Martial.”
The defense was worried about a candidate – a married father of two girls -- who recently volunteered for training to become a victim advocate. Kozyra said that he feared that the "victim friendly" man could not be impartial, because he was trained to treat every sexual assault claim as true.
Cutter dismissed five candidates Friday afternoon, and asked the seven jurors not to use social media or discuss the case over the weekend.
Four senior enlisted Coast Guardsmen, two male officers and one female officer were set to return Monday morning for the trial on the fourth floor at the Coast Guard’s 7th District Headquarters in Miami’s Brickell area.