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Air Force chief pleads guilty to sexual misconduct

/ Source: The Associated Press

A senior official at an Ohio Air Force base pleaded guilty on Monday to sexual misconduct and adultery, blaming the extramarital affairs he had with married female subordinates and inappropriate sexual advances he made toward others on getting "caught up in a cycle of sin."

Chief Master Sgt. William Gurney, who was the senior enlisted man at the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, when allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced in 2009, pleaded guilty to 13 counts during court martial proceedings Monday at Scott Air Force Base in southwestern Illinois. He could be sentenced to up to 14½ years in prison.

Among the charges he pleaded guilty to were seven counts of dereliction of duty — one for each enlisted woman he was accused of making inappropriate advances toward — and four counts of adultery that pertain to trysts with four married Air Force women. He also admitted to using his military-issued cell phone and computer to exchange explicit e-mails and texts, and to having had sex with his wife at least twice while a female enlistee watched.

Jury selection began later Monday for Gurney's court martial on five other counts to which he pleaded not guilty. Attorneys for the two sides questioned ranking Air Force officers about such things as their views on sexual harassment and whether they could judge such cases impartially.

Prosecutors and Gurney's attorneys told the military judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, that his guilty pleas were made without any promise of lesser punishment or the dismissal of other counts.

At the defense's request, Cumbie tossed out an obstruction-of-justice count alleging that Gurney tried to influence one of the women to not discuss their relationship with investigators.

In addition to prison time, Gurney could be dishonorably discharged from the military and forfeit pay and benefits because of his guilty pleas.

Gurney, who is tall and physically fit, recounted his indiscretions dating to mid-2007 when pressed by the judge. He told Cumbie that he was derelict in misusing his position by consensually exchanging explicit pictures with the female subordinates, and by fondling or kissing them.

Gurney also admitted he had sex with four married women whose spouses were unaware of the trysts.

Gurney, in pleading guilty to the indecent misconduct count, acknowledged having sex with his wife at their home and while attending a San Antonio conference as one of the female subordinates watched, her husband never knowing.

"I was caught in a cycle of sin," Gurney told Cumbie before admitting he "failed not only as an airman but as a husband."

None of the women mentioned in the charges was in the courtroom as Gurney described their encounters for the first time in public. Cumbie has told attorneys not to discuss the case publicly.

Gurney had transferred to Wright-Patterson in 2008 from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he was command chief of the Ogden Air Logistics Center and 75th Air Base Wing.