Air Force officer’s sexual assault sentence called lenient

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — An Air Force noncommissioned officer convicted of misconduct with eight women, including three who accused him of sexually assaulting them, was sentenced to three months confinement and another month of hard labor, a punishment a victims’ rights advocate called “shockingly light.”

Tech. Sgt. Anthony Lizana, 35, also was reduced in rank to airman first class and was given a dishonorable discharge Saturday night at his trial at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The San Antonio Express-News reports (http://bit.ly/2lddvem ) the jury of two officers and five senior noncommissioned officers could have sentenced Lizana to nearly 38 years in prison for his conviction on four charges and eight specifications of misconduct that included dereliction, adultery, assault consummated by battery and sexual assault.

Military prosecutors originally lodged seven charges and 17 specifications of misconduct against him. Conviction on all those charges could have resulted in more than 87 years in prison.

Lizana’s attorneys presented no witnesses in his defense.

Women testifying against him accused Lizana, in the Air Force for 15 years and a married father of two young children, of unwanted sexual misconduct.

The most serious charges involved sexual assaults against three women. He was convicted on only one of the specifications, for touching a senior airman’s crotch in 2015 without her consent. He was drunk at the time, according to prosecutors.

In testimony, another airman said she was disturbed when Lizana twice bear-hugged her at a surprise off-base birthday party for her and hinted that he bought a sex toy as her birthday present.

Testimony also showed two women said they had affairs with him and weren’t aware at first that he was married and a father.

“The person I was 16 months ago is not the person who stands before you today,” Lizana told jurors in a statement that asked for mercy.

The statement also referred to his alcoholic parents, an older brother in prison for murder and his own time as a heavy drinker.

Lizana’s civilian attorney, Tom Fleener, told jurors a dishonorable discharge “has a lasting effect forever” and was enough punishment. Prosecutors asked for nine years and reduction to the lowest rank.

“I think it reflects that there is a massive need for reforming the way we do sentencing in the military,” Don Christensen, a former Air Force judge and president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault survivors, told the newspaper. “I would say this is more the norm than the exception that we get shockingly light sentences for serious misconduct in the military.

“It reflects the military’s inability to take sexual misconduct that strikes at the heart of good order and discipline seriously.”

Lizana worked in a medical supply warehouse at Lackland and was accused of giving shoulder massages, hugging and kissing young, lower-ranking women and three sexual assaults.

The senior prosecutor, Capt. Bradley Palmer, said most of the victims were first-term airmen out of high school and were inexperienced, vulnerable and uncertain how to handle some situations.

Palmer said their first job out of technical training school was the Lackland warehouse where Lizana was “the guy in charge, the guy who is supposed to be the adult in the room, creates the environment.”

The dereliction in performing his duties with three women occurred from Sept. 1, 2014, to Dec. 1, 2015. He also was convicted of kissing an airman on her forehead in 2014 and 2015.

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