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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri drill sergeant is guilty of sexually assaulting and harassing several female soldiers, a military judge ruled Wednesday.
Army Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez would serve a 20-year prison sentence under the judge's recommendation. The sentence must be approved by the post commander.
Sanchez, 30, was found guilty of four counts of sexual assault and six counts of abusive sexual contact at a court-martial Wednesday afternoon. He also was found guilty of several lesser charges of maltreatment.
He was accused of using his supervisory position with the 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood to isolate his victims and win their trust with favors, including cake and ice cream. One woman testified that failing to cooperate would have jeopardized her military status.
The women said the incidents took place in the bathroom of the female barracks, a supply closet, a stairwell and an office shared by drill sergeants.
Sanchez, a Philadelphia native and father of two, didn't testify during the three-day court-martial but apologized to his victims, many of whom were in the courtroom, after the verdict.
"I hope someday you'll be able to forgive me," he said. "I let a lot of people down."
Military prosecutors recommended a 25-year sentence; Sanchez's lawyers asked for an eight-year sentence.
At the outset of the military trial Monday, Sanchez pleaded guilty to three charges of disobeying orders by having sexual contact with three female trainees. Several additional accusations against Sanchez were dismissed after a pretrial hearing in the spring.
Sanchez was found not guilty of nine counts, including an allegation of rape brought by a medic in Afghanistan while he was stationed there in 2011 and 2012.
Sanchez also served one tour in Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star and two other combat medals before arriving at the Missouri post in August 2013.
Several of his victims testified about how the assaults left them filled with fear, self-doubt and a lingering mistrust of the institution they pledged to faithfully serve.
"I no longer wanted to be part of the Army," one female soldier said. "I didn't trust any of my superiors, or even my male peers."
Sanchez's attorney Ernesto Gapasin questioned the women's credibility, noting that some of the initial accusers were either facing disciplinary action of their own or forced separation from the military at the time complaints against Sanchez were raised.
"The government wants to focus on this overwhelming control Sgt. Sanchez had over his accusers," Gapasin said before the verdict was announced. "What this case is really about is consent and conjecture."
The charges against Sanchez were filed in May, days before a Pentagon study on sex assault in the military found that more than 5,000 reports of sexual abuse had been filed in the previous fiscal year, a 50 percent increase from the previous 12 months.
Pressure from Congress led to several reforms in how the military justice system handles sex assault complaints. Accusers are now assigned lawyers to guide them through the legal process, and the statute of limitations has been eliminated. Anyone convicted of a sexual assault in the military faces a required minimum sentence of a dishonorable discharge.
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