Coast Guard petty officer guilty on all charges
By Stacy Jacobsonsjacobson@abcnews4.com
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A jury found Petty Officer Second Class Omar Gomez guilty of five charges Saturday after a week-long sexual assault trial.
After deliberations, a jury sentenced him to eight years confinement and dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.
The jury found Gomez guilty of violating a general order, maltreatment of subordinates, making a false official statement, aggravated sexual contact and discrediting the armed forces.
"The testimony provided in this trial shouldserve as a stark reminder to each and every Coast Guardsman, regardless oftheir position in the service, that there are no bystanders in the preventionof sexual assault, and that intrusive leadership is key to creating a commandclimate intolerant of inappropriate behavior," said Cdr. Chris O'Neil, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard.
The jury began deliberating Friday after closing arguments until about 9 p.m. The jury reconvened Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and reached a verdict at about 10:15 a.m.
After announcing the verdict, five of Gomez's victims spoke to the court.
Most testified the incidents had caused profound stress and negative effects on their lives and they considered leaving the U.S. Coast Guard.
Instead of leaving, one woman said she had vowed to defy the setback. Since the incident, she said she had advanced in rank and would not let one person define her.
"I want to show I can somehow change the Coast Guard for the better," she said.
She also testified the incident had affected her intimacy with her husband, and the stress from the trial had caused her to miscarry one of her twins while she was pregnant.
Another victim testified stress had caused her to prematurely give birth.
Gomez's rape victim had the longest testimony, crying as she told the court the pain the incident had caused to her and her family.
In her trial testimony, the victim had told the court she had not reported the rape in order to protect her family. On Saturday, she said why she decided to testify: "I knew if I let that man walk away and hurt anyone else, it would be my fault."
The victim said the incident had made her question the government. She said she came from a military family, and said she'd always believed the armed forces were "here to protect [her] and to do what's right."
"Why would you let someone like that in to the military?" she said.
She also said telling her father about the rape was one of the hardest things she ever did. She waited almost two years to tell him, for fear he'd go after Gomez, she said.
Gomez also read an un-sworn statement before the court. He apologized to his family, including his four young children and his shipmates on the Gallatin.
"They helped me grow. I let them down," he said.
He said he never meant to hurt anyone and hoped his victims would forgive him.
"I wish I could undo harm I've done," Gomez said. "I can't. I can apologize, accept my punishment and never do it again.
"I am ready to accept it. I will take it, take what I learn and work to lead the good life," Gomez told the court.
The jury reconvened Saturday afternoon to determine sentencing. Prior to determining the sentence, the government and the defense argued before the panel.
The government asked the jury to sentence Gomez to 20 to 30 years with a dishonorable discharge.
The government also expressed disapproval of Gomez's un-sworn statement, telling the jury he never apologized to the individuals whose lives he affected.
The defense argued it "took a lot" for Gomez to tell the court that he let his junior sailors and family down. It also argued Gomez has "rehabilitative potential," and asked the jury to remember the fact that he will be a registered sex offender the rest of his life.
The defense asked the panel members to sentence Gomez to five years confinement.
The jury decided on a punishment of eight years confinement and dishonorable discharge from the Coast Guard. He will serve his sentence in military prison.
Gomez raped a civilian woman in February 2012, and sexually harassed six subordinate female Coast Guard members aboard the cutter Gallatin.
According to charging documents, he forced women to have sex with him and took inappropriate photos of his genitalia while on the ship. The documents also state he made offensive sexual comments and inappropriately touched women in a sexual manner.
The incidents took place aboard the Gallatin, based in Charleston, in 2011 and 2012. The incidents occurred in Seattle, Charleston, Honduras, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.