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Defense Rests on Day 2 of Krusinski Trial

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski

ARLINGTON, Va. -- A 23-year-old woman testified Tuesday that the Air Force's former chief of sexual assault prevention drunkenly groped her outside a Washington-area restaurant in May, then followed up by mocking her.

"I feel someone come up behind me -- their chest is to my back, and they firmly grab my rear end as they're walking by, and they ask me if I like it," said the woman, who broke down in tears during her testimony in Arlington County Circuit Court.

The testimony came during the first day of the misdemeanor assault and battery trial of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, who was removed from his job running the Air Force's SAPRO office after his arrest.

Krusinski says he's innocent of the assault.

The woman said she struck Krusinski several times with her fist; other witnesses said a beating of the Air Force officer ensued.

Witnesses called by the defense Wednesday morning painted a picture of a tipsy but essentially passive Krusinski being vigorously and repeatedly struck by an enraged woman using her cellphone as a weapon. The defense rested by early afternoon, with closing arguments expected late in the day.

Rene Miranda, a worker at a nearby restaurant who said he was having a beer with friends in the early morning hours of May 5 on the Arlington street where the alleged assault took place, said he saw a woman yelling at a man, who seemed to be nodding in agreement, before she began striking him repeatedly with her phone while he retreated.

When the man put his head down, the woman switched to uppercut strikes with the hand holding the phone, Miranda said under examination by Krusinski's attorney, Barry Coburn. Miranda assumed the two were having a lovers' spat.

"He probably loved her really a lot, because I wouldn't put up with that," Miranda said. He later added, "He seemed very compliant."

Krusinski was initially charged with sexual battery in the incident, but Virginia prosecutors in July revised the charge to regular assault and battery, saying the sexual crime requires additional proof of sexual intent. A grand jury indicted Krusinski in August.

Both charges are Class 1 misdemeanors and carry a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500. Krusinski's all-out defense is unusual in a misdemeanor case, but with 19 years in service -- and the Air Force saying it will make decisions about his future once the case is decided -- his retirement may hang in the balance along with his reputation.

Stars and Stripes is withholding the woman's identity because she reported she was a victim of sexual assault.

Prosecution witnesses, including an Arlington County police officer, on Tuesday described a drunken Krusinski stumbling through an area of bars and restaurants in the early morning hours of May 5.

A server at nearby Freddie's Beach Bar, Vaughn Coleman – a transgender woman who calls herself Jordain – said in testimony Tuesday that Krusinski appeared to be a happy drunk. Coleman said Krusinski propositioned her and groped her and another employee before she brushed him off.

Coleman said Krusinski then continued down the street and grabbed the 23-year-old woman's buttocks as he passed her on the sidewalk -- contradicting earlier reporting based on an incorrect police report that said the alleged assault happened in a parking lot behind the restaurants.

The woman did not take well to the contact, Coleman said.

"I don't blame her -- she went crazy on him," Coleman testified, saying Krusinski put his hands behind his head and made little effort to defend himself. "He was taking it like a guy."

Coleman said the 23-year-old followed Krusinski down the street and around a corner, hitting him an estimated 15 times with her cellphone. Coleman said Krusinski later appeared drenched in blood.

Early on Wednesday, Coburn asked Judge William T. Newman to declare a mistrial based on Coleman's testimony Tuesday, when she said under questioning from Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cari Steele that both she and the alleged victim in the case had been assaulted by Krusinski.

Such a claim could irrevocably bias the jury, Coburn said, but Newman ruled against the request.

Marc Higgenbothem, called to the stand Wednesday, said he didn't see what precipitated the confrontation, but that Krusinski didn't appear aggressive.

"It looked like he was just trying to walk away and she kept hitting him," said Higgenbothem, who said he knew Krusinski because the two at one time lived in the same building and frequently saw each other at bars.

Witnesses on Tuesday said the next confrontation occurred when the woman and friends followed Krusinski into a parking lot behind the strip of restaurants. There, one of the woman's friends called police -- the raucous 911 tape was played in court Tuesday -- and Arlington County police Cpl. Geoffrey Gammell said that soon after, he spotted Krusinski staggering down a street. When stopped, Krusinski, whom Gammell said smelled of alcohol, kneeled with his hands behind his head.

Todd Walter, a former investigator for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, testified Wednesday that two days after the incident, he and another investigator viewed a surveillance video of the rear lot that appeared to show both a woman he assumed was the victim and an unknown man striking someone he thought was Krusinski.

But when Air Force investigators qualified to copy the video went to the bar with the surveillance system the next day, they learned that the system automatically erased itself every three days, and the video was lost.

In an opening statement, Coburn said Krusinski "had an extremely strong incentive not to commit an act that would cost him his career" and predicted inconsistencies would derail the prosecution's case.

One of those he focused on Tuesday was the differing accounts from prosecution witnesses of how the alleged assault occurred. Coleman said Krusinski reached back and grabbed the victim as they passed each other while facing opposite ways on the street. The woman, however, said Krusinski approached her from behind while they both faced the same way.

But prosecutor Steele appeared to zero in on a contradiction of her own. Miranda, who described a sustainted beating of Krusinski by the alleged victim, said his hands were behind his back, while other witnesses said Krusinski's hands were on his head or in the air while the beating took place.

Advocates for sexual assault victims and some lawmakers have pointed to the Krusinski case, along with a series of other sex-related military crimes, as proof that the Defense Department isn't adequately addressing the military's sexual assault problem.

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