LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The latest military training instructor accused of having an inappropriate relationship with trainees entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday as his court martial got underway.
The first day of proceedings focused on how the numerous other instructors accused in the Lackland sex scandal could affect Technical Sgt. Christopher Smith's fate.
Smith is accused of having a personal relationship with trainees, making a sexual advance toward a trainee, and impeding the investigation by telling that trainee to "play dumb" when questioned by investigators.
Prosecutors alleged that Smith made that sexual advance toward a female trainee in April 2011 at a home off-base and was refused.
During the same time, at the same house, another instructor is accused of having sex with a different trainee. The defense argued that the details of the separate encounter should not be brought up in court—a point of contention that was debated for much of the morning Tuesday.
In the end, the judge agreed.
"The military judge has ruled that that evidence will not come in at this time, unless something happens in the trial that makes it relevant," said Col. Polly Kenny, Staff Judge Advocate with the 2nd Air Force.
Both sides also began seating a jury Tuesday. A crucial step in that process, says Kenny, is determining whether potential jurors have been exposed to the widespread media coverage of any other cases in this Lackland scandal.
"If the military judge believes they have some kind of predisposition as the result of prior knowledge of the other cases," said Kenny, "then they may well be relieved of duty in this case."
As the courtroom battle continues, so does the Air Force's push to identify any other possible victims, meaning this scandal could grow even larger.
So far, 15 instructors have been accused and two of them have been convicted and sentenced.
A total of 38 alleged victims are involved. And Kenny says those numbers are could grow.