No verdict on petty officer's fate after 2 hours of jury deliberations in Coast Guard court-martial in North Charleston
Asking for the acquittal of a Coast Guardsman accused of sex crimes, a defense attorney said Friday that Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez was blamed for depraved behavior that's rampant aboard the Charleston-based ship he served on.
Gomez, 35, is charged with violating five military laws in connection with rape and sexual harassment stemming from missions of the cutter Gallatin or its crew.
His lead attorney, Richard Morris of Virginia Beach, said during closing arguments of Gomez's court-martial that none of his client's actions were motivated by sexual desire. Instead, Morris said, Gomez was just one of the many male and female shipmates, including the accusers who were sitting in the courtroom gallery, who showed such behavior.
"Was anyone else in that chain of command held accountable?" Morris said. "No. The scapegoat of that culture was (Gomez)."
After the remarks in a courtroom at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, the jury of six officers discussed Gomez's fate for two hours until 9 p.m. Friday. Their deliberations were expected to commence at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The jurors must consider several separate allegations under each of the five charges. If the jury finds him guilty of any one allegation, then he's convicted of the charge it falls under.
Four, or two-thirds, of the six jurors must agree on the findings. Unlike civilian criminal trials, a unanimous verdict isn't necessary.
During his closing argument, lead prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Mike Cintron said the facts of each alleged incident "speak for themselves." In one case, he noted, Gomez sent a text message to a seaman that said, "I want you bad."
"Those are the words of a sexual predator," Cintron said, dubbing the defense argument a "distraction."
The five counts against Gomez are:
.Violation of a general order by sexually harassing a seaman on the basis of her gender.
.Maltreatment of subordinates by making sexual comments to six female Coast Guardsmen inferior in rank.
.False official statement by telling investigators that he didn't have sex with the civilian woman who accused him of rape in West Ashley, then recalling the next day that he had sex with someone whose face he couldn't remember.
.Aggravated sexual contact by fondling four female shipmates, raping the civilian and exposing his genitals to shipmates on three occasions.
.Conduct discrediting to the armed forces by taking a picture of his genitals with a seaman's camera.
If convicted, Gomez could face more than 30 years in prison.
His attorneys presented four witnesses to counter the 14 called by prosecutors. All of the defense witnesses were Coast Guard members who had recollections that differed from the prosecution's accounts.
They also challenged the validity of the prosecutors' few pieces of physical evidence, including the text messages from Gomez and two photographs of bruises that a seaman said she snapped after Gomez pinned her against a filing cabinet on the ship, groped her and kissed her.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.