Lawyers for a cadet charged with sexually assaulting his former high school sweetheart and producing explicit videos of their liaisons accused prosecutors Monday of trying to criminalize a “Romeo and Juliet” romance.
Evidence in the case, which could see sophomore cadet John-Paul Thompson spend more than three decades behind bars, also indicated that the romance went sour. Defense lawyers acknowledged that Thompson faces extortion charges in his home state of Tennessee for using the sex videos as revenge pornography.
But they said the 2018 incident that led to the sexual assault allegation was consensual.
“There are specifics where they have had drunken consensual sex before,” argued Capt. Spencer Nelson, one of two military lawyers for Thompson.
The charges were issued in December after an eight-month investigation prompted by one of the woman’s roommates at the University of Tennessee.
The roommate testified Monday that she called the academy last April, telling officials that Thompson was threatening to release explicit videos of the pair.
“She said she was having a panic attack because he was going to release these photos,” Emma Weinstock said.
As the Air Force Office of Special Investigations dug into the case, the alleged victim told them about a March encounter with Thompson that led to the sexual assault charge. The woman said she was too inebriated to stop Thompson in a sex act.
The Air Force arranged a recorded phone call between the two that prosecutors say supports the sexual assault claim.
Thompson faces an additional count of failing to obey because he was forbidden from contacting the woman after the allegations arose.
The biggest arguments, though, were over the explicit videos.
Prosecutors initially charged Thompson with producing pornography for the videos, which Air Force agents found after searching Thompson’s computer and phone.
But the videos were made in 2017, two months before Thompson reported for basic training. That drove a jurisdictional argument that had prosecutors backing down to an allegation of possession of child pornography.
Defense attorneys want the counts tied to the video to be dismissed, arguing that Thompson, then 18, and the woman, then 17, agreed to the recordings, and that sexting between high school sweethearts shouldn’t be a crime.
“It’s absolutely not appropriate for them to charge this as child pornography possession,” Nelson argued.
Monday’s arguments will be summarized in a hearing officer’s report on the case that will help academy leaders decide whether Thompson will face court-martial.
Academy leaders have a wide variety of options. They can take some or all of the case to trial, opt for administrative punishment or dismiss some or all of the counts.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx