ARLINGTON, Va. - An Air Force officer who once led the branch's sexual assault response team was acquitted Wednesday of allegations that he groped a woman outside a Virginia bar.
A seven-member jury deliberated about an hour after hearing closing arguments in the misdemeanor assault case against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, of Arlington. His arrest fueled a national furor over sexual abuse in the military and whether top brass take the issue seriously.
A 23-year-old woman testified that Krusinski grabbed her backside on May 5 outside the Crystal City bar.
Defense lawyers argued that there were inconsistencies in her story. In particular, the defense honed in on the woman's testimony admitting she punched Krusinski a few times in the face in retaliation. Numerous other witnesses, though, described seeing her hit him countless times.
Prosecutors had urged the jury not to be distracted by what happened after the alleged grope.
Krusinski showed no visible reaction after the verdict was read, but smiled and hugged family members outside the courtroom. He did not respond when reporters asked him for his reaction.
The jury forewoman, Alison Kutchma, said "the commonwealth did not present evidence to meet the threshold of reasonable doubt. Our job was to look at the evidence."
She declined to say whether there was any testimony or issue in particular that swayed the jury.
Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos said she was disappointed by the verdict. "We think we put on a good case, but the jury, as they say, has spoken."
The woman who brought the complaint declined comment leaving the courtroom. Stamos met with her after the verdict and described her as "relieved that it's over."
The alleged victim testified that Krusinski grabbed her backside and was backed up by a bar employee who testified that she saw the grope as well, though she described it somewhat differently than the alleged victim did. The employee said Krusinski had also groped her and another employee minutes before.
Defense lawyers argued there were more inconsistencies in the alleged victim's story, particularly in how she described the aftermath. For instance, she denied using her cellphone as a weapon, but several witnesses said they saw her hitting him with it.
"Think about whether that can be an innocent misrecollection," defense attorney Barry Coburn told the jury of five men and two women. "She is grossly underestimating the number of times she hit him."
He also highlighted other inconsistencies. A police officer's report taken immediately afterward said the woman complained that Krusinski grabbed her breasts and buttocks, but at trial she said only that Krusinski grabbed her backside.
Steele said it's not unusual for witnesses to have slightly varied recollections of what happened, especially outside a bar where people have been drinking. But she said the focus on the woman's violent response is a distraction from the real issue - the woman's testimony that Krusinski groped her and then asked her if she liked it.
"What else would cause such a reaction" from the woman? Steele asked the jury.
In testimony Wednesday, several defense witnesses said they saw the woman inflicting a beating on Krusinski, though none saw the alleged grope.
Rene Miranda, who was at the Tortoise and Hare bar that night, said he saw the 23-year-old woman repeatedly striking Krusinski after a brief verbal altercation. Miranda assumed the two were a couple.
"That guy, he probably loves her a lot, because I wouldn't put up with that," Miranda testified.
After repeatedly striking Krusinski in the face with her cellphone, Miranda said the woman "changed her strategy" and started throwing uppercuts.
He said Krusinski did not defend himself.
Ray Martin, a bartender at nearby Freddie's Beach Bar, said that Krusinski's face was "just awash in blood" and that he immediately told a co-worker to call 911. He said that both Krusinski and the alleged victim appeared to be intoxicated.
The Air Force removed Krusinski from his post with the sex-assault unit after his arrest became public.
Krusinski faced up to a year in prison if convicted.