Local News

Air Force Charges Turn Woman From Rape Victim to Defendant

Posted August 6, 2007 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2007 7:34 p.m. EDT

— An Air Force enlisted woman who claimed to be the victim in a rape case at Pope Air Force Base but then opted not to testify at a court martial, has become a defendant accused of committing indecent acts with the men involved.

Airman 1st Class Cassandra M. Hernandez, now 20, also is being charged with dereliction of duty for drinking alcohol when she was less than 21 years old.

Hernandez said she was gang-raped at a party on May 13, 2006. The Air Force charged Airman Russell J. Basile in the incident.

Later, however, Hernandez said she felt pressured by the Air Force judicial process and intimidated by Basile’s defense attorney, an Air Force lawyer, who she said interviewed her without her victim’s advocate present.

“I just wanted to go to work and not have this hanging over my head. I just wanted to be normal,” Hernandez said Wednesday.

Capts. Christopher Eason and Omar Ashmawy, who are representing Hernandez, say the Air Force failed to follow its own procedures and is persecuting her.

“I don't know why people made the decision they made,” Ashmawy said. “I know policies were not followed, policies laid out by the Department of Defense. And I know this is the wrong thing to do to Airman Hernandez.”

A Pope spokesperson provided a addressing the status of the case and a summary of information related to the case.

"It's unusual that we would involve ourselves with the media,” Ashmawy said, “but this is a very unusual situation."

Hernandez faces a special court martial and is due in court on Sept. 24.

In February, Lt. Col. David Knight, the commander of her unit, the 43rd Operations Support Squadron, signed papers charging Hernandez with committing an indecent act by having sexual relations with Airman 1st Class Jerrell W. Apache while Basile and Airman Rotez J. Butler Butler watched.

In written statements to her attorneys, the three accused airmen call the sex consensual. One said Hernandez wore "skin tight" clothes, danced in a "promiscuous way" and later stripped naked.

Hernandez said that is not how it happened.

“What those guys did was wrong. There's nothing worse than being raped and people not believing you,” she said.

A book author and researcher on rape issues who is helping Eason and Ashmawy, John Foubert, said that charging a rape victim with having consensual sex “when the evidence clearly points the other way is an insult to every American and every individual who has worn the uniform.”

Hernandez, who is from Texas, has written to Gov. Mike Easley, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the North Carolina and Texas congressional delegations to ask for support.

In her memo to Perry, Hernandez said, “Under enormous stress and after consultation with the legal office, I made the decision not to testify — the pressure of the judicial process was too much for me, and I felt like no one was looking out for my interests.”