Military trainer acquitted of wrongful sex contact

Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — A military jury sentenced an Air Force basic training instructor to a year in prison Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a trainee.

The San Antonio Express-News reported the jury also sentenced Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio on Wednesday to reduction in rank to airman and a dishonorable discharge.

He could have received up to 14 years in prison for the guilty plea he made on Monday at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The sentencing came hours after the jury acquitted Estacio of wrongful sexual contact with a trainee. That charge was presented to the jury at Lackland earlier Wednesday, one day after a military judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to support a sexual assault charge.

The acquittals spared Estacio sentences of up to 43 years in prison.

Estacio was swept up in a sex scandal at Lackland, where all American airmen receive basic training.

The issue of consent was central to the prosecution’s case. Prosecutors tried to show that Estacio pressured the trainee into having sex.

The defense, however, reminded jurors of the trainee’s testimony that she had flirted with Estacio in a series of text messages and called him “sweetheart” and “darling.”

Military prosecutors have investigated more than a dozen instructors at the base in San Antonio, and charged six. Estacio is the fourth instructor to go on trial.

All American airmen report to Lackland for basic training. It has about 500 instructors for about 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. While one in five recruits are women, most instructors are men.

In July, a military jury sentenced Staff Sgt. Luis Walker to 20 years in prison after the former instructor was convicted of rape and sexual assault. The counts against Walker were the most severe in the investigation.

Last month, the military ousted the top commander over the basic training unit at Lackland. In addition, Texas Sen. John Cornyn held up White House’s nominee for Air Force chief of staff while pressing for answers about the scandal. Cornyn finally ended his hold on the nomination of Gen. Mark Welsh after meeting with him to discuss the scandal.