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Sheppard Airmen faces second court-martial

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas_A Sheppard Airman facing his second court-martial related to sex charges was convicted of two sex offenses and exonerated of a third charge during a general court martial hearing April 3 and will serve 15 more years in federal prison as a result.

Airman Basic Elis M. LaSalle, 364th Training Squadron, was found guilty of one charge of aggravated sexual assault and pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly attempting to persuade a child who had not reached the age of 18 in illegal sexual activity. 

He was also found not guilty of one count of extortion.

For his actions, LaSalle was sentenced to 15 years confinement to add to the current 28-month prison sentence he is already serving, as well as a dishonorable discharge.

LaSalle was returned to Sheppard from the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, San Diego, where he was already jail time after a previous court-martial conviction for crimes committed against children.

For this trial, LaSalle was charged with three separate violations of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ); first, he was charged with violating Article 120, rape by force, for using strength sufficient that she could not avoid or escape the sexual act; Article 127, extortion by attempting to conceal the sexual assault act with threats unless the victim maintained the pretense of a consensual romantic relationship; and Article 134 for knowingly attempting to persuade a child who had not reached the age of 18 to engage in illegal sexual activity.

LaSalle pleaded "not guilty" to the first two charges and "guilty" to the Article 134 charge.

On June 25, 2011, LaSalle committed an aggravated sexual assault against a fellow Airman in training on the night of her 21st birthday. LaSalle separated the victim from her friends and took her back to the hotel room after she started feeling ill while at the night club. When she woke up the next morning, the victim said she felt confused and betrayed.

"Someone that I trusted took advantage of me," she said. "If he's a friend, then why would he do that to me? ... I felt like something wrong happened."

With a lot of alcohol consumption by the birthday party goers, mostly other Airmen from their training squadron, the witness, Senior Airman Jace McCarthy from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, said the events of the previous night were not 100 percent clear, but he remembered that the female Airman was upset the next morning.

"She didn't seem herself," McCarthy said. "I don't want to say a little panicky, but freaked out. She said she thinks something happened in the hotel the night before."

During the trial, the government prosecutor, Capt. Joshua Nettinga, told the military judge, Col. Matthew Ward, "The accused is not looking for a strong capable partner, but a vulnerable victim."

Before their graduation from technical school, there was another incident in question where LaSalle forced the Airman to have sex with him, while making her keep quiet with threats of showing nude photos of her to friends and family. Even when the victim tried to confront him, he would get combative and only threaten her more. When she told LaSalle to stop, he ignored her pleas.

It was after technical training, when through a series of text messages back and forth, LaSalle admitted to the victim that he had forced her to have sex. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations found these text messages while investigating LaSalle for other offenses, and prosecutor Capt. Leslie Bartow subsequently interviewed the Airman about the potential sexual assault.

It was during that interview that the Airman came forward for the first time with the details of what she suffered during technical training. In explaining why she finally reported the crime, the Airman tearfully responded, "I didn't want to hide it anymore."

LaSalle's first court-martial conviction in 2012 came about due to his attempts to entice two children under the age of 18, one victim was 13 years old and the other had just turned 16, into illegal sexual activity and for engaging in indecent language with a child with his own 15-year old niece. LaSalle offered his niece money if she would take photos of herself in just her underwear for him. These crimes were all committed using text messaging and social media.

He pled not guilty to one victim and was convicted and pled guilty to the other two victims during the first week of November 2012. For his crimes, he was sentenced by a military judge to a dishonorable discharge, 28 months confinement, reduction to E-1 and a reprimand.

The Air Force first learned of these crimes when an older sister intervened on his communication with her little sister and then reported the incident to local police and AFOSI, who then obtained a federal warrant and seized his communications with the victims.

AFOSI obtained all text communications sent from his cell phone during the time frame of October 3-12, 2011. In those text messages, they found not only the three underage victims for which he was prosecuted at his first trial, but also the two victims who were the basis of his second court-martial.

During that nine-day period, AFOSI learned that, LaSalle knowingly tried to convince four under-age girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with him and found evidence of a nonconsensual sexual encounter with another Airman.

At the time he sent those text communications, LaSalle was in Pennsylvania participating in the Recruiter's Assistance Program (RAP) following his graduation from technical school at Ft. Leonardwood, Mo.

__Information comes from Sheppard Air Force Base website.

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