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Military trial delayed in sexual-harassment case

SHARE Military trial delayed in sexual-harassment case

ST. LOUIS — A military judge has delayed indefinitely the court-martial proceedings for an Ohio-based chief master sergeant accused of sexually harassing 10 female subordinates through fondling and explicit text messages.

The Air Force said William Gurney's attorneys had requested the postponement of the trial, which was to have begun Monday at southwestern Illinois' Scott Air Force Base, about 25 miles east of St. Louis. No new trial date was immediately set.

Gurney, a 27-year Air Force veteran, had been the top-ranking enlisted man at the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, when the allegations surfaced last year and led to charges involving nine Air Force women.

A 10th woman, a sergeant who allegedly got explicit texts from Gurney and kissed him, was added in the listing of charges released in August.

During a three-day hearing in May at the Ohio air base, women testified about flirtations, inappropriate touching, exchanges of text messages and nude or seminude photos, and other encounters that in some cases led to consensual sex and affairs. One woman testified she said "no" before Gurney had sex with her in his office.

Gurney, who initially was charged in February, faces 18 counts of engaging in sexual misconduct and unprofessional relationships involving 10 enlisted women, with the alleged indiscretions including wrongful sexual contact, adultery, mistreatment of subordinates and dereliction of duty by misuse of his position.

He also is charged with misusing government property for allegedly sending numerous sexual messages and photos with his military-issued phone. A charge of obstructing justice later was added because Gurney allegedly tried to influence the testimony of a witness, the Air Force has said.

The Air Force said a charge that Gurney improperly tried to get a female airman transferred to Wright-Patterson was dropped at the hearing judge's behest.

Gurney, who was assigned to administrative duties in November of last year after an airwoman complained of harassment, has not commented publicly and declined to make a statement at the May hearing.

He has not entered a plea. A Scott spokeswoman, Karen Petitt, said Friday that military defendants generally are presumed to be not guilty and enter such pleas closer to the start of their trials.

Gurney's lawyer, Maj. Kristin McCall of Wright-Patterson's legal staff, did not immediately respond to a message left Friday through that air base's public-affairs office.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and dishonorable discharge, or lesser discipline such as a demotion and a pay cut.

Gurney will be tried before a military judge and a jury of five members of the Air Force, or he can request trial by judge only, Petitt said.

"The Air Force takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and holds its people to the highest standards," the Air Force said in a statement Friday. "It presumes the innocence of the accused until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Lt. Gen. Robert Allardice, 18th Air Force commander at Scott, ordered the general court-martial trial after reviewing the report of the military judge who oversaw the May hearings.

Gurney had transferred to Wright-Patterson in 2008 from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he was command chief of the Ogden Air Logistics Center and 75th Air Base Wing.