SFC Kelly A. Stewart (Army) and CMSgt. John Stewart (USAF Ret.)
Below is the long version of my explanation that I wrote down and published in November 2011, one month after Three Days In August was released. It’s the explanation I still offer today:
On March 30, 2010, I came across something about the case of SFC Stewart, a Green Beret who had been convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison after being accused of raping and kidnapping a German woman.
Though I cannot recall or locate whatever it was exactly that made me aware of SFC Stewart’s case, I did keep records of what transpired from that day forward. It began with an email to the Soldier’s father, CMSgt. John Stewart (USAF Ret.), in which I wrote two words: Call me.
During the days and weeks that followed, Chief Stewart forwarded everything he could about the case. In addition, he helped me secure an authenticated copy of the Record of Trial and encouraged me to read it. If, after reading the complete ROT, I didn’t think something had gone horribly wrong with SFC Stewart’s case, Chief Stewart said he would respect my decision.
It didn’t take long, however, for me to conclude that SFC Stewart had indeed become a victim of military justice gone awry.
During the next 12 months, I gathered other documentation, discussed the case with others with close ties to the case and wrote as much as I could write based upon the case records. Then my work on the book took a completely different turn.
On March 31, 2011, SFC Stewart was released from the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the result of having his sentence reduced to three years and being released on probation after serving 19 months behind bars.
Soon after his release, I was talking with him by phone.
Before it was over, I had interviewed him multiple times, spending more than a dozen hours on the phone and exchanging countless emails — as the only writer, reporter or media person with whom he agreed to discuss the case.
The rest is history.
Based on extensive interviews and offering never-before-published details about the case, Three Days In Augustpaints a portrait of military justice gone awry that’s certain to make your blood boil.
Despite the fact prosecutors presented no evidence or eyewitnesses, members of a U.S. Army court-martial panel found Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart guilty of sexually assaulting a 29-year-old German woman with whom he admitted having had a one-night stand one year earlier. Below is an excerpt from my book, Three Days In August, about what happened in the life of this elite Green Beret after he was railroaded by the politically-correct military justice system:
Click on image above to order book.
“So, they find me guilty. It’s late at night. In an instant, my whole life got flushed right down the toilet,” said Stewart, recalling the verdict that changed his life just before midnight on August 19, 2009. “I am smart enough to know that my life is screwed. The rest of my life. No matter what. My life is done.
“Clearly, I felt that I was shafted, and I knew there was no way to fix it,” he explained. “This is an analogy I use. It might come across as messed up, but this is my analogy, and this is why I chose to do what I did.
“I was not going to have everybody do prison time with me,” said Stewart, recalling his thoughts after a court-martial panel found him guilty of sex crimes against a German woman and handed down a sentence that included a reduction in rank, from E-7 to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, eight years of confinement and a recommendation for dishonorable discharge upon release.
“I wasn’t going to go to prison and have my kids have to go through having their dad in prison and my wife having to stand by my side and go without a husband for years—and, at that time, I didn’t know the length of the years,” said Stewart, a Special Forces combat medic and Level One-trained sniper. “I didn’t know the length of my sentence; I just knew that I was found guilty.”
Kelly A. Stewart’s uniform was covered with signs of his life as a Top One Percent Special Forces Soldier.
That’s when he made a decision.
“I never thought I was going to prison,” Stewart said. “When I got back after (being convicted), I had a reality check in the hotel room” at the Krystal Inn, the on-post hotel where he was staying near the court building where his trial was taking place at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany.
About the only plans he made took place during the last intermission in the courtroom before his guilty verdict was announced. After calling his wife and telling her he wouldn’t be coming home soon, Stewart also called his military-friendly bank, USAA, and transferred all of the money in his account into his wife’s account.
“I already knew what I was gonna do,” he recalled.
Back in their room at the Krystal Inn, Stewart and his buddy, Sergeant First Class Detrick Hampton, laid in their beds and talked most of the night until Sergeant Hampton fell asleep around 5 a.m. Less than an hour later, Stewart began to implement his hastily-crafted plan.
Careful not to wake Sergeant Hampton, Stewart got up out of his bed about an hour later, put on his Army Combat Uniform and low-quarter shoes and collected a few items—including a combat knife and a rubber band—he thought he might need. Oddly, he left his black Army jump boots in the room.
Kelly Stewart on a gun truck in Iraq.
Quietly, he walked out of his second-floor room at the Krystal Inn where, even after he was found guilty, he was not kept under guard—an indication, perhaps, that some in the Army still didn’t think he was as dangerous as the charges, eventual conviction and news media coverage of his case might have indicated. He had, after all, never been deemed a danger to others or a flight risk.
Because he had not planned to go away for a long time, Stewart didn’t prepare by gathering lots of clothes, money and 16 passports. Instead, he ensured only that he had enough money for gas to go where he needed to go to take his own life. And with three combat tours in Iraq and other stints in Kosovo and Macedonia under his belt, he knew enough about medicine to make it happen.
Once outside the hotel room, Stewart walked the short distance to a staircase in the center of the building, down a single flight of stairs and through an open-air hallway out to the parking lot where his rental car, an Audi Q5, was parked.
He drove the SUV a short distance to the Shoppette—the name the Army and Air Force Exchange Service gives its convenience stores located on military installations—where he purchased a laundry list of items: three 50-count bottles of Tylenol caplets, one 72-count package of Sominex tablets, two 16-ounce bottles of Gatorade Riptide Rush, some writing paper and a couple of pencils.”
Find out what happened next in the life of this man who sacrificed so much for his country only to be betrayed! Order a copy of Three Days In August.
Having already survived several combat deployments in Iraq, Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart never expected to come face to face with death during a tour of “schoolhouse duty” at a NATO training center in Germany, but he did. Some of the details of the Green Beret’s brush with death appear in the excerpt below from my first nonfiction book, Three Days In August:
Kelly Stewart returns from a mission in Iraq.
Panicking because they had eaten up some time, they began hooking up bottles and IVs and then another bad thing happened: Stewart had an allergic reaction to a drug the German doctors used and went into anaphylactic shock.
“(There’s) nothing like being double-handcuffed and (having) your feet shackled and strapped to a bed (while) going into anaphylaxis,” Stewart said. “I’ve seen a lot of people go through it, but being conscious and going through it is very difficult.
“It just started off as being real tight in the chest,” he continued. “The next thing you know, it felt like somebody put lighter fluid on me and caught me on fire.
“I couldn’t breathe at all, and everybody was kind of panicking around me, trying to give me medication to stop what was happening.”
Soon, the Germans said they didn’t have a doctor who could treat him, that he was probably having liver and kidney failure and was probably going to die. Their message to the American cops: “We need to get him out of here.”
“Of course, I’m understanding what the Germans are saying and what they’re telling the cops,” Stewart said. “They’re kind of underhanded, saying, ‘We can’t treat him here. We need to send him over to Landstuhl,’” the U.S. Army’s largest hospital in Europe.
“What they’re saying in German is, ‘We need to get him out of here, because he’s not going to survive,’ and they didn’t want that (outcome) in their hospital.”
After publishing an article Thursday afternoon about the Army’s prosecution of Sgt. Todd Knight on allegations he raped a woman while stationed in Germany, I shared a link to the article with Knight’s mother, Teresa McQueen, and she replied about two hours later with a heartfelt message about the chain of events during which her son was found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to one year in prison, a loss of rank to the lowest enlisted grade and, upon completion of his sentence, a dishonorable discharge and a life spent as a convicted sex offender. Below, with her permission, I share her reply:
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Wow. I can’t believe that these women are allowed to continue with their daily lives as if they did not ruin a person’s career and life. I was so proud of my son for choosing to join the military. His love of the military is what inspired his younger two siblings to join the military. Todd has suffered so much as a result of this. Each year he is forced to go through the process of registering as a sex offender which is especially difficult for him since he knows that the alleged victim lied. He is forced to commute well over an hour a day to work — and that is with good traffic — because its easier for him to live in a more rural area.
Earlier this month, the military started garnishing his paycheck to repay the reenlistment bonus he was given prior to this incident. So now, depending on how much overtime he works, approximately $400 is taken out of each of his paychecks until a balance of $20,000 is paid. He didn’t even get $20,000 as an enlistment bonus which leads us to believe the military is actually charging him interest!
This photo shows Todd Knight in his Army uniform prior to being accused of rape and convicted on a lesser charge.
To be quite honest, I do not know how Todd pushes through, day after day, but he does. He is such a “glass half full” person and is always trying to help others. In fact, sadly, it is he who is constantly consoling me about this whole situation. I have never felt so powerless in my life. I wish you could have been at Todd’s court-martial. He was guilty before the trial even began. As his family, we had to watch how his command turned on him. While food and water was brought to the alleged victim, Todd, who was supposed to have been considered innocent at that time, and his family (myself, his sister and step-father), were forced to go without eating lest we not make it back in time for when the trial resumed. They knew we did not have a vehicle and were dependent on them for a ride.
However, what I found most disturbing was that we were not allowed in the courtroom during Todd’s trial. So we could not give him the support of at least seeing a friendly face and knowing that he was not in this alone. The alleged victim was allowed to be in the courtroom with one of her friends. I can only imagine, the panel probably believed he was such a terrible person (that) his own family did not feel it was necessary to be with him during this terrible ordeal.
His lawyer told me repeatedly prior to the trial, that I needed to prepare myself because, short of the alleged victim retracting her story at trial, he would be convicted. Having a law degree myself (although not being familiar with criminal law and having a father who is a public defender), never in my wildest dreams did I think they would actually convict him based on the evidence presented at trial. Little did I know that all it takes is to be accused of sexual assault. Once you are accused, it’s a done deal. There is no “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s ‘You’re guilty, and we will just see how much time you will get.’”
When Todd began serving his sentence, his apartment was literally a ‘free for all,’ thanks to his immediate superiors, the people who were supposed to be making sure his apartment was packed up and his belongs shipped to me in California. Because I believed his superiors were looking out for “one of their own,” I never bothered to go through any of the crates that were now being kept in storage until Todd’s release. It was not until about a month before Todd was scheduled to be released that I visited the storage unit to retrieve and wash his clothes so that he would have some form of normalcy by having his own things. Also, he told me he had a few suits which he had had tailored and should have been in (the storage unit). Because he had an interview scheduled for the week following his return, I wanted to have (the suits) dry cleaned.
It was with horror that I saw many of the things that were shipped were either not his or basically just trash. None of the items Todd said should have been shipped to me were included in that shipment. His computer was gone. His laptop was gone. His camcorder was gone. All of his computer software, his PS4 and its games were gone. His new flat screen TV was gone. There was not one piece of furniture delivered. As God is my witness, there wasn’t even one pair of shoes included in that shipment. Anyone who knows Todd knows he is a clothes and shoe hoarder. Todd was single, he liked nice things, and he bought nice things. They took everything. After a lot of complaining, they finally sent a second shipment of kitchenware and an old broken TV Todd actually did tell his command they could have.
At one point, I even learned one of his superiors was driving around in Todd’s car that was supposed to have been sold and the money given to Todd. After many calls to that guy and his superior, I was finally able to at least get something in writing which released Todd from any liability should someone have an accident in that vehicle.
Although Todd is trying to get on with his life and stay positive, there is always something — like the garnishment — that seems to make him move back five or six steps. He finally has a job that he loves and the people love him. However, now everyone knows that something is going on in Todd’s life, because his paychecks are being garnished by the military.
It’s very upsetting to me as I am sure you can imagine. No one deserves to have something like this happen to them. Everyone deserves a fair trial. Do you know that after Todd’s conviction, in order to try to get the least amount of time as possible, they actually expected him to apologize to the alleged victim. Although at the time, believing he would end up with more like seven years, I encouraged Todd to just say what they wanted him to say if it meant he would get less time. But I must admit, Todd stuck to his guns and refused to apologize for something he did not do.
This whole thing has been a nightmare for me, and I’m not even the person who had to serve time and go through God only knows what while in prison. I just wish the military would rethink how they approach accusations of sexual assault. The accused is not guilty simply because the accuser says he is. With Todd’s investigation, they did not care if he was innocent. Their entire investigation stemmed on gathering only that evidence that would aid the prosecution in obtaining a guilty verdict, regardless of whether the accuser was guilty or not.
Sorry for the long rant. I am just heartbroken over this whole thing.
Three years ago this month, I was contacted for the first time by Teresa McQueen, a woman whose son, Todd Knight — then a 25-year-old Army Sergeant stationed in Germany — had been accused of raping a 19-year-old woman. Today, I offer a long-overdue update about that case and issue a call to action.
This photo shows Todd Knight in his Army uniform prior to being accused of rape and convicted on a lesser charge.
First, a review of some case details is in order.
On March 7, 2013, I published an article that included snippets about several cases involving military men accused of sex crimes. Below is the text of the portion of the aforementioned article that pertained to Knight’s case:
While stationed in Germany, Army Sergeant Todd Knight befriended a young German woman while out with friends the night of Jan. 27, 2012. At some point during the evening, he and three other Soldiers — one of whom he considered a friend — accompanied the woman and one of her friends to the home where the sister of one of the women — but not the accuser — lived.
What actually happened at the home, however, remains a matter of much debate as conflicting stories were given to German authorities. Two things, however, stand without dispute: Sergeant Knight was arrested by German authorities the next day, accused of rape, and those same German authorities eventually decided not to pursue the case.
U.S. military officials, on the other hand, decided to move forward with charges of their own despite the fact that the alleged victim testified during the Article 32 hearing that she couldn’t remember what had happened that night and despite the aforementioned conflicting statements.
On Dec. 18, 2012, Sergeant Knight was found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to one year behind bars and busted to E-1, the lowest enlisted rank and a rank he would hold until the end of his sentence when he would be dishonorably discharged from the Army.
Three months after Sergeant Knight’s conviction, people continued to show interest in proving the 25-year-old Soldier’s innocence. One who showed interest was the German woman at whose home the alleged rape occurred.
In a “To Whom It May Concern” letter dated February 28, 2013, she wrote that she had known Sergeant Knight for more than two years, and then she dropped a bombshell, explaining that the sergeant’s unemployed accuser “told me SGT Knight did not rape her, and that she only said that because she didn’t want her boyfriend at that time to find out she was cheating on him.”
Unfortunately, communications with Knight’s family ended a few months after the trial — they were, to say the least, distraught — and resulted in me not receiving copies of several documents, including the Record of Trial. Things changed, however, a few days ago, after I came across Knight’s case among my military justice files and decided to contact his mother again.
In response, she sent me an electronic copy of the ROT as well as several documents related to his appeal.
In the ROT, I learned several Soldiers selected to serve on the court-martial panel (i.e., the military equivalent of a jury) were in the rating chain of either the convening authority (i.e., the senior officer ordering a court-martial be held) or another panel member. Any chance of undue command influence as a result? Damn right!
I learned Sgt. 1st Class Gary G. Emmert told the court he had completed the 80 hours of Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training necessary to serve as a sexual assault victim advocate and was, in fact, serving as the victim advocate for his unit at the time he was tasked to serve as a panel member.
I learned LTC John D. Koch told the court he had served on “multiple court-martials before” and, while that’s not unusual for a line officer of his rank, something else he said caught my attention. When asked if he had ever served on a panel adjudicating a sexual assault case, he answered, “Yes.” Asked how many times he had served on such a panel, he answered, “I believe twice. I’ve lost count of how many were there.”
Colonel Koch also confirmed that he had received “a sexual assault special briefing” for Army leaders while stationed at Vicenza, Italy, earlier the same year. During that special briefing, he and fellow trainees watched a 20-minute clip from “The Invisible War.” the Oscar-nominated documentary in which a handful of cases purported to be representative of the so-called sexual assault “epidemic” in the military are highlighted while solid facts, as highlighted in my recent article about lies, damned lies and statistics, are largely excluded.
Could forcing Soldiers to watch that film be construed as exerting undue command influence via brainwashing? I think so. But I digress.
Because the ROT contains 663 pages, I’ll use a 15-page document — the brief filed April 9, 2014, on Knight’s behalf with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals by Frank Spinner, his Colorado Springs-based civilian defense attorney, and Capt. Brian Sullivan, his military defense attorney — to help explain why the case against Knight was so weak. Below is the text of that document’s “Argument” section with boldface type added for emphasis by yours truly and the names of the accuser and the author of the aforementioned “To Whom It May Concern” letter redacted:
The government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that SGT Knight engaged in an act of sexual intercourse with (accuser) while she was substantially incapacitated and that SGT Knight was not under a mistaken belief that she consented to sexual intercourse. The case is built on (accuser’s) credibility regarding what happened when she was alone with SGT Knight in the apartment bathroom.
The defense portrayed (accuser) as a woman who flirted with SGT Knight through the course of the social evening they experienced with mutual friends, but who turned on him after they consensually engaged in sexual intercourse and she learned he had a girlfriend. She did not back down from her claim, because she saw an opportunity to financially benefit from a victim compensation opportunity.
The government countered by claiming that SGT Knight took advantage of her because of the amount of her alcohol consumption, which left her vulnerable and impaired to the degree that she was unable to consent.
The government presented testimony from German police and Army forensic experts addressing chains of custody and laboratory analysis of evidence. Their testimony, however, was not helpful in determining the central issue of consent. They merely confirmed that a complaint was made and investigated, following normal protocols, even though the investigation was somewhat limited in scope.
SGT Knight did not testify, instead relying on the requirement for the government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
To the extent that accuser testified, she acknowledged that she had a poor, arguably selective, memory about what happened that night. No witness saw her pass out, nor was there any evidence she consumed any more alcohol than anyone else who socialized with them that evening. The accuser, an experienced drinker, who admitted to getting drunk on prior occasions, confirmed she had no more to drink that night than what is normal for her.
This begs the question: what evidence supports her claim that she was substantially incapacitated? There is no evidence other than that she consumed six drinks over a period of four hours. This amount of alcohol consumption, standing alone, does not prove substantial incapacitation beyond a reasonable doubt. The government did not present any evidence that accuser was drugged, even though she claimed that she may have been drugged.
Then there is the issue of whether the government disproved the mistake of fact affirmative defense beyond a reasonable doubt. When the testimony of the witness is combined with the photographs of SGT Knight and accuser, the evidence clearly supports a mistake of fact defense.
The witness’ testimony deserves closer scrutiny. The witness observed the interaction between accuser and SGT Knight at the critical point where SGT Knight went into the bathroom at her apartment. She also talked to accuser right after the alleged rape. Witness appears to have inferred from what she heard and observed that accuser pulled SGT Knight in the bathroom and rubbed her back and, afterwards, when telling witness that she had sex with SGT Knight, wanted to communicate with him again. It was at this point witness informed accuser that SGT Knight would not respond because he had a girlfriend. Thus, a potential motive for the claim was born.
One possible explanation for the court members’ decision involves the face that accuser vomited a couple of times that night. On the one hand, it could be argued that no one would have sex with another person in that condition. On the other hand, in the context of individuals drinking and flirting with each other, why would this face necessarily keep two people from having sex? There is not way this question can be easily answered. The real problem is whether any adverse inference that flows from this fact against SGT Knight should be drawn beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no empirical basis for drawing such an inference.
In the absence of any objective corroboration of accuser’s claim that she was sexually assaulted, what evidence makes her believable beyond a reasonable doubt? There is none. In fact, a number of considerations raise serious questions about her credibility. Why did she use a translator when she testified? Accuser was born to a U.S. Army soldier, and who was married to a U.S. Army soldier at the time of trial, simply did not need that assistance.
Then there is the question regarding whether accuser may have been drugged. Although she acknowledged that this is what she originally believed, by the time of trial, her belief had changed because there was no evidence to support this belief. At trial, her story became that in pretrial interviews the prosecutors helped her see how drunk she was. This is inconsistent, however, with the amount of alcohol this experienced drinker consumed that night by her own admission.
Finally, was there some financial motive behind her claim? She retained an attorney shortly after she made her initial complaint, for the purpose of seeking victim compensation from the Army.
Just as experts could not look at the physical evidence and determine whether they were caused by assaultive behavior, this Court cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that accuser told the truth or that SGT Knight did not have a mistaken belief that she consented to sexual intercourse.
Perhaps as damning as the claim by the author of the “To Whom It May Concern” letter that the accuser had told her she had not been raped, is the fact the accuser received a payment from the U.S. Army as compensation for pain and suffering stemming from a rape that did not happen. While I’ve been told she received a payment in the neighborhood of $20,000, I’m attempting to obtain a copy of any official documentation that reveals the exact amount of money she received. I will share that amount in an update as soon as I get it.