- Associated Press - Monday, July 16, 2012

SAN ANTONIO — Military officials say the initial flirtations that Staff Sgt. Luis Walker directed at the women he trained at a Texas Air Force base grew into something more sinister: threats and intimidation that eventually led to rape.

Walker’s court-martial, resulting from a widening sex scandal at LacklandAir Force Base in San Antonio, began Monday with discussion of procedural issues in his case.

Opening statements had been expected by afternoon but debate among attorneys over various legal issues forced the military judge, Col. Wesley Moore, to delay them until Tuesday. Walker’s father and two other family members were in the courtroom at the base.

Walker is among 12 instructors at Lackland who are being investigated in a scandal that has rocked one of the nation’s busiest military training centers.

“We haven’t had a case of this magnitude, certainly in recent memory,” said Brent Boller, a spokesman for Joint Base San Antonio, which operates Lackland.

Walker faces the most serious charges in the case — 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He could get up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.

One of the legal issues debated Monday was whether to allow prosecutors to use in their opening statements a photograph Walker texted to one of his alleged victims. Walker appeared shirtless in the photo. Objections by defense attorneys over the photo’s authenticity forced prosecutors to have the alleged victim briefly testify that the image had been sent to her by Walker.

“He sent a lot of photos,” said the woman, whom The Associated Press is not naming because she is an alleged victim in the sex scandal. Prosecutors say Walker also told the woman that she was “hot” and “should have been naked.”

Moore decided to allow prosecutors to use the photo of Walker.

The 10 female recruits Walker is accused of either sexually assaulting or engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with are expected to testify during the court-martial. At least 31 female trainees have been identified as victims in the sex scandal.

Officials at Lackland are calling Walker’s court-martial the “cornerstone case” in the ongoing investigation. A seven-member jury made up of military personnel will decide his case.

Walker’s civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, declined comment Monday.

A two-star general, Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, has launched a separate, independent investigation.

Advocates for female service members and members of Congress have started taking notice.

“It’s a pretty big scandal the Air Force is having to deal with at this point,” Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer and policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network, said last month. “It’s pretty substantial in its scope.”

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