Missouri sergeant goes to court for sexually assaulting soldiers

Casey Hutchins

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri-based Army drill sergeant has been accused of sexually assaulting 12 female soldiers during the past three years, including several while he was deployed in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez appeared at a pretrial hearing at Fort Leonard Wood on Wednesday and could face a court-martial later this year, defense attorney Ernesto Gasapin said Thursday.

He is accused of sexually assaulting four women and touching eight others inappropriately, said Tiffany Wood, a Fort Leonard Wood spokeswoman.

The charges, filed earlier this month, come amid persistent criticism by Congress over how the Pentagon handles sexual assaults. The U.S. Defense Department says more than 5,000 reports of sexual abuse were filed in the most recent fiscal year — a 50 percent increase from the previous year.

Military court records indicate that Sanchez is accused of using his supervisory position as a drill sergeant with the 14th Military Police Brigade to threaten some of the women he’s accused of assaulting.

The Pentagon’s first formal report on sex assaults in its ranks shows that in the vast majority of the cases the victim was a young, lower-ranking woman and the offender a senior enlisted male service member, often in the same unit.

Several of the women Sanchez is accused of attacking testified at Wednesday’s hearing. But Gasapin said the initial accuser chose not to attend the hearing.

“It starts as one allegation and spreads out,” he said, referring to the investigation that led to multiple accusers coming forward. “We have serious questions about the credibility of the witnesses making these accusations.”

The defense lawyer said he expects an investigating officer’s full report to be complete by June, at which point Sanchez’s case could be set for a court-martial. The charges could also be dismissed or downgraded, Gasapin said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called sex assaults in the ranks “a clear threat” to male and female service-members when the Pentagon released its latest statistics.

Sanchez has been assigned an office job with his unit as his legal case unfolds.

Man arrested for touching Brad Pitt has history of getting too close

LOS ANGELES — A man who was arrested after police said he rushed and touched Brad Pitt at the premiere of the Angelina Jolie movie “Maleficent” is a former Ukrainian journalist with a history of getting too close to celebrities.

Vitalii Sediuk was jailed Wednesday on suspicion of misdemeanor battery at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and was held in lieu of $20,000 bail, police said.

Sediuk has previously crossed the line with celebrities, most recently rushing America Ferrara on a red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival and crawling under her dress.

He crashed the 2013 Grammy Awards and was arrested after he went onstage and grabbed a microphone before Adele accepted an award. He pleaded no contest to trespassing and remains on probation.

In 2012, Will Smith slapped Sediuk after he tried to kiss him on a red carpet, and he drew Madonna’s ire a year earlier by presenting her a bouquet of flowers.

In the latest incident, Sediuk is accused of jumping over a barrier in a fan area and rushing at Pitt along the red carpet, touching him briefly before security guards wrestled Sediuk away in handcuffs.

Police could only confirm that he made contact with Pitt and could not classify it further. Pitt was apparently unhurt and resumed signing autographs before walking into the theater.

Attorney Anthony Willoughby, who represented Sediuk in the Grammy trespassing case, said he will likely represent the former journalist if any new charges are filed.

The latest incident might constitute a violation of Sediuk’s probation, the lawyer said.

Sediuk got to Pitt despite security that was heavy for a movie premiere, with guards keeping a large gap between the stars and the crowd.

Email messages left for representatives of Pitt and Disney were not immediately returned.

England’s delayed Iraq report to be released after five years

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron says a long-delayed report on the Iraq war should be published by the end of 2014 — five years after the inquiry began.

Cameron told Sky News that the delay was frustrating, and the public was eager to see the answers.

The inquiry, led by retired civil servant John Chilcot, was set up to examine mistakes made before and after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It held public hearings between 2009 and 2011.

Its report has been delayed by negotiations with top civil servants over the inclusion of classified material including conversations between then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and then-President George W. Bush.

On Friday, the House of Commons Public Administration Committee said the long delay was “very serious.”

Mass. juvenile lifers first to have parole hearings

BOSTON — Two Massachusetts inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles will be the first to have parole hearings since the state’s highest court struck down mandatory life sentencing for young offenders in December.

Joseph Donovan, 38, and Frederick Christian, 37, will have hearings on Thursday. They’re among 63 inmates serving juvenile life without parole sentences in the state. Both were convicted of felony murder charges and have been behind bars since they were 17. Neither did the actual killings.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that lifelong imprisonment for juveniles is a cruel and unusual punishment, saying scientific research showed that their brains were not fully developed.

The decision followed a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that outlawed such mandatory life sentences. The Miller v. Alabama case did not abolish juvenile life sentencing but rather gives judges an opportunity to consider mitigating factors on a case-by-case basis.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that allows juvenile offenders to be sentenced to life without parole. About 2,500 inmates are serving this sentence nationally.

If granted parole the inmates will be moved to a minimum security prison. It could take up to two years until they are eligible for release.

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