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Sailor Gets Life for Rape on Ship

NORFOLK -- The defendant was a family man, with a wife and one child and a second on the way, witnesses told the court. His chief testified that he was quiet and didn't cause trouble.

The victim was a young damage controlman who, eager to get on a deployed ship, asked to transfer to the Vella Gulf. Her friends testified that she changed on the day in question -- that the sight of a black trash bag is now too much for her to bear.

During court-martial proceedings that ended Friday, she described an attack against her that was so predatory and carried out with such brazen disregard for the confines of a ship at sea that it was difficult to believe.

But it happened, a seven-member Navy jury determined this week.

In the dark morning hours of April 26, in the steel depths of a guided missile cruiser in the Mediterranean Sea, Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Wilt raped and sodomized a female sailor, telling her he planned to cut her up and throw her body parts overboard.

The jury convicted Wilt of rape, sodomy, assault, kidnapping, obstructing justice and other offenses. They sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole -- a term of at least 10 years.

The victim, whose name is being withheld because The Virginian-Pilot does not normally publish names of sexual-assault victims, testified during the sentencing hearing that she still lives in fear, said Cmdr. Michael Luken, who prosecuted the case.

"Her greatest fear was that he would be released and come and finish the job," Luken said after the court-martial. "I think members considered that."

What made the assault especially unusual was that it happened while the warship carrying 260 crew members was at sea, where alcohol is not available and an attacker cannot flee. Prosecution testimony and evidence laid out details of a carefully premeditated plan.

The victim, now a petty officer third class, testified that Wilt covered a storage room with black plastic trash bags that he secured with duct tape. He encountered her just as she was getting off her shift shortly before 2 a.m. and tricked her with a story about a leak. Then he wrapped his arm around her neck from behind, forcing her to the ground, she told the court. He told her they were going to have fun.

Holding a knife to her, he threatened that if she didn't do what he said, he would chop her up and toss her body parts out to sea. He forced her down two flights into a storage room within an equipment room, where he raped and sodomized her and then used zip ties to shackle her hands toward the ceiling -- all while telling her that he loved her.

When it came to killing her, he got nervous.

"Suddenly he's not so confident anymore," Luken said, describing Wilt walking in and out of the room. "What to do? He had a plan but could he do it? No, he had to come up with a new plan."

He got a bucket and sponge and had the victim wash herself, she told the jury. Investigators could find no bucket and sponge in the area.

He dumped them in the ocean, Luken surmised.

The woman broke down only once during her testimony -- when Luken asked her to point out her attacker. She turned to look at him for the first time since she'd entered the court room, then sobbed and buried her face in her hands.

Defense attorney Ernesto Gapasin challenged her credibility. He raised the possibility that the sex was consensual and presented a witness who countered the victim's claims that she had worked on the same team as Wilt in flight quarters for less than two weeks.

"If she could not be forthcoming and honest about how long she spent on flight quarters... you have to question all the rest of her testimony," Gapasin said during his closing statement Wednesday.

He presented evidence that the equipment room had been painted the morning of the attack, though prosecution witnesses said that tape -- not plastic bags -- was used in painting.

He cited testimony by an officer who said Wilt was cool and normal the next morning and by another who said "he had a calm mentality. He's not aggressive."

But Gapasin, who declined to comment after the trial, offered no explanation for why the victim would concoct the story.

At the sentencing hearing Thursday, a forensic psychologist said Wilt could be rehabilitated and posed a moderate risk of attacking again. He has been in the brig since April 30, Luken said.

Luken said the jury recommended that Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, which was in charge of the case, defer cutting off his pay to allow Wilt's family time to adjust.

"My heart goes out to them," Luken said. "Unfortunately, Daniel Wilt did what he did."

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Military Justice Crime in the Military
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