Jury Jails, Boots Cadet

Colin Poitras, Hartford Courant, June 29, 2006

New London—After deliberating for four hours Wednesday, a military jury sentenced U.S. Coast Guard cadet Webster M. Smith to six months confinement and dismissed him from military service.

The sentence was handed down a day after the 23-year-old cadet was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female classmate last year and four other violations of the military code of conduct. It was the first court-martial of a cadet in the Coast Guard Academy’s 130-year history.

Smith, of Houston, showed little emotion as Capt. Thomas Jones, president of the nine-officer jury panel, announced the sentence.

Earlier, members of Smith’s family and his current girlfriend pleaded for leniency for the former academy football player, who could have been sentenced to more than 5½ years of incarceration.

Smith, in his own appeal to the court, apologized for the shame he has caused the academy, and also apologized to his family, fellow cadets and friends who “believed in him.”

“I know that I do not deserve to graduate,” he said, fighting back tears. “No matter what you decide, my career here is over. … The fact that I am here today shows that I have failed. I should have been a better leader, cadet and friend.”

In addition to six months confinement, the jury also ordered Smith to forfeit all military pay, stipends and benefits he has acquired over the past four years as a cadet. Smith’s dismissal from service equates to a dishonorable discharge.

Smith was found guilty of indecent sexual assault of a cadet, performing oral sex on a cadet in violation of military conduct codes, using the threat of blackmail to coerce a cadet into having sex, being absent from his watch in a cadet dormitory and attempting to disobey an order. He was acquitted of charges of raping his former girlfriend, also a cadet, and other offenses involving two other female cadets.

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Wednesday’s sentencing followed emotional appeals from Smith’s mother, father and girlfriend. They testified that Smith is a changed man who will forever carry the stigma of a federal sex assault conviction and has learned from his mistakes. He will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.

Smith could have been sentenced to up to five years and seven months incarceration, dishonorable discharge from the Coast Guard and forfeiture of all his military pay, stipends and benefits.

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The guilty verdicts for indecent assault, sodomy and extortion all relate to Smith’s conduct with a female cadet, now an ensign, who alleged that Smith had come to her room on three occasions the night of Oct. 19, 2005.

The visits progressed from taking nude photographs to massages to oral sex.

The woman claimed Smith took advantage of her after she confided in him about a secret that could have jeopardized her military career.

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New London, Conn.—A Coast Guard cadet accused of rape and other sex offenses was a manipulative senior who preyed on lonely women, a prosecutor said Tuesday in opening arguments at the defendant’s court-martial.

Webster Smith, 22, of Houston pleaded not guilty Monday in the first student court-martial in Coast Guard Academy history to charges including rape, sodomy, extortion and assault that stem from allegations by three female cadets.

His military attorney compared the case to the Salem witch trials, in which people were put to death based on concocted stories that weren’t backed up by evidence.

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In his opening statement, Bald described Smith as a manipulative person who preyed on women when they were weak.

“When they were drunk and alone he moved in. When they were helpless, he moved in. When they had nowhere left to turn, he moved in,” Bald said.

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The jury of Coast Guard officers includes four white men, one white woman, three black men and a man of Asian descent.

Smith’s attorneys, who raised the possibility that the charges could be racially motivated, said they were pleased by the jury’s diversity. Smith is black and the accusers are white.

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