October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:50 am
A Fort Carson soldier was sentenced to 10 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge Tuesday after pleading guilty to engaging in sexual acts with a 13-year-old girl.
Spc. Richard A. Sheltra, a 23-year-old M1 armor crewman with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, pleaded guilty Monday to four charges during his court-martial on post. Those charges include having sex with the victim, then 13, and engaging in sexual acts with her on multiple occasions, as well as sending images of his penis to her.
"I know what I did was wrong. I know I need to be punished," Sheltra said Tuesday to a seven-member panel of soldiers during a statement he made in the sentencing portion of his trial. "We cared about each other very much. I'd even say I was in love with her."
The victim was a willing participant and initiated many of the sexual acts, which occurred last year, he contended.
After losing his virginity at age 21, Sheltra, a self-described misfit, said he wanted to explore his sexuality and ended up making bad decisions, such as ignoring a no-contact order from his first lieutenant.
"I was engulfed in a world I liked because I was accepted by someone who genuinely wanted to be with me," said Sheltra, adding that he and the victim shared an interest in music and enjoyed talking about what they'd do in the event of a "zombie apocalypse."
Sheltra met the victim when she was 12.
In early 2012, the victim was raped by a civilian. Sheltra began hanging out with her afterward in an effort to lift her spirits, he said.
Their relationship turned sexual several weeks after Sheltra attended the victim's 13th birthday party, he said.
Sheltra had asked the panel for a dishonorable discharge - the Army's most severe - in lieu of a long period of confinement. His defense team had asked for four years of confinement plus the dishonorable discharge.
Sheltra faced up to 125 years and six months in prison.
Government lawyers had asked the panel to sentence Sheltra to at least 17 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge.
"It's not the most aggravating case," Maj. Jonathan Lambert, a lawyer with the prosecution, told the panel. "What it is, is the case of a soldier, some years removed from high school, taking advantage of a girl years removed from elementary school."
Though Sheltra said he cared about the victim, a forensic investigation of his computer found that he had a folder titled "lil slut" on his computer with naked pictures of her, Lambert said.
"Does Spc. Sheltra love the victim, or is he just trying to use her?" Lambert told the panel. "The strong prey on the weak, and that's exactly what Spc. Sheltra did."
Sheltra's defense argued that he was not solely responsible for the emotional damage done to the victim over the past couple of years.
The victim's civilian rapist is responsible, too, as is Pfc. David Burke, a Fort Carson soldier convicted June 21 of similar charges against the victim and sentenced to six years of confinement, the defense argued.
An additional soldier is being investigated on allegations of similar misconduct against the victim, post officials said Tuesday.