A former Air Force recruiter who was sent to prison for sexually assaulting high school girls was released Wednesday after serving only four and half years of his 27-year sentence.
The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the most serious charges against Airman Basic Jaime Rodriguez and ordered his case back to a lower court. There, he was sentenced to six years. Because of good behavior at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was released a year and a half shy of completing that new sentence, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
According to court documents, Rodriguez was originally convicted in 2013 of “various types of improper conduct toward Air Force applicants, recruits, and recruiter’s assistants.”
The improper conduct included aggravated sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, sodomy, wrongful sexual contact and indecent exposure. In addition to his 27-year sentence, Rodriguez was also demoted from E-6 to E-1 and dishonorably discharged after his 13-year career.
During the appeals process, the court found that prosecutors failed to provide enough factual evidence to back up the two most serious charges — aggravated sexual assault by causing bodily harm and abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm — according to two military lawyers who spoke to San Antonio Express-News.
Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said the court “abused an anachronistic, unique power,” which most civilian courts do not have.
“There is a seeming trend by military appellate courts to abuse this power when it comes to sexual assault and rape cases,” VanLandingham said. “Congress needs to take a fresh look at why the military courts retain a power that allows them to disbelieve rape victims, when the juries who actually heard from these victims in fact believed them.”
Rodriguez’s 2013 conviction occurred amid a series of high-profile scandals involving male military training instructors and female recruits at Lackland Air force Base.
Testimony during Rodriguez’s 2013 trial showed he would frequently abuse his position of authority over potential recruits, according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle.
One woman from Angleton, Texas, who returned home from basic training to complete the Recruiter Assistance Program, was sent inappropriate text messages and frequently fondled by Rodriguez.
She worried Rodriguez, who ran the recruiting station alone, wouldn’t complete the paperwork to confirm she had been in the program, thereby forcing her to count the days spent at home as leave.
“He told me he really wanted to perform oral sex on me, and I said ‘no,’ ‘no.’” the woman said.
She resisted his advances at first, she said, but eventually allowed it, hoping for it to end.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.