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Military rejects anti-gay bias claim, upholds sexual contact charge against former Air Force officer

BY MICHAEL DOYLE, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON -- A military appeals court has rejected claims of anti-gay bias in upholding the 2009 conviction of a lieutenant colonel court-martialed at the former McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

While confronting some tricky issues surrounding military sexual conduct, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals largely rejected claims raised by former Lt. Col. Steven J. DiMatteo. The married, one-time commander of the 10th Airlift Squadron, 62nd Airlift Wing, was sentenced to 11 months in prison and dismissal after being convicted of wrongful sexual contact with an enlisted man, and three other charges.

The appeals court upheld three of the four charges as well as the sentence, which DiMatteo has already served. Notably, the appellate court rejected DiMatteo’s argument that the trial panel convened at what is now called Joint Base Lewis-McChord was biased against him because of the homosexual conduct allegations.

“Each member was questioned extensively about their personal views concerning homosexuality and the (Pentagon) policy then in effect,” the appeals court noted. “Each clearly stated that they were not influenced by the policy and would decide the appellant’s case on its merits. We find absolutely no evidence that a panel of very experienced officers did not comply with their duties or follow the military judge’s instructions.”

At the time of DiMatteo’s court-martial in May 2009, the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy remained in effect. The military did not accept openly gay service members until September 2011.

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