WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) An Air Force colonel was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday and kicked out of the military for assaulting a woman, misusing his government travel card and other crimes at Sheppard Air Force Base.
Col. Samuel Lofton III faced 140 years in prison after being convicted of 34 counts, including indecent assault, larceny, being absent without leave and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
"The system has worked and will continue to work in this case," said Capt. Brett Landry, the lead prosecutor.
The 49-year-old former training commander "systematically abused his power, position and authority to the detriment of the Air Force and to the detriment of those around him," Capt. John Montgomery, another prosecutor, said during closing arguments in the sentencing phase Thursday. "The Air Force will recover, and the stains will fade over time. But (the assault victim) will have memories of this for the rest of her life."
Lofton did not comment as he walked, without handcuffs, with his attorneys out of the courthouse. He was accompanied by base security guards and will be held at the base several days before being transferred elsewhere.
Lofton was convicted Wednesday of assaulting one woman but acquitted of rape and two other assault charges involving another. He was convicted of bad conduct charges involving a third woman.
"We are obviously incredibly disappointed in the jury's verdict and in their sentence," lead defense attorney Maj. Mark Etheridge said, adding that he will aggressively pursue all appeals.
Lofton also racked up $26,000 in personal expenses on his government travel card and was reimbursed $14,000 for trips he never took. He pleaded guilty to those charges last week.
"He had the Air Force at his fingertips, was on his way to the top and was one of the most powerful men at Sheppard Air Force Base," Montgomery told the military jury. "He doesn't let the rules stand in his way. Once about every other day he faces a simple decision between right and wrong: to swipe the card or not. ... It really calls into question his integrity and sense of entitlement."
Lofton, the former 82nd Training Group commander at the base from 2004 until he was removed last year amid an investigation into his financial wrongdoing, did not testify at his trial or sentencing.
Defense attorneys called no witnesses Thursday but showed pictures from throughout Lofton's life and career. They argued that Lofton already will suffer consequences because of his court-martial convictions especially the indecent assault, which will require him to register as a sex offender in most states.
"It's not punishment, but it's punishing," said Capt. Elizabeth Pullin, one of his attorneys, urging jurors not to both discharge her client and send him to prison. "Sometimes justice means mercy."
Two-thirds of the jury had to agree on the sentence. A term of more than 10 years would have required three-fourths approval.
Lofton also was fined $14,000 and must serve an additional year in prison if he doesn't pay it. He will remain in the military until his release from prison but must forfeit all his pay during that time. He makes more than $9,000 a month. His dismissal is equivalent to a dishonorable discharge.
Jurors followed the prosecutors' recommendations, except the prison term, exceeding it by two years. The penalty will be reviewed by the 2nd Air Force commander, who will also decide when Lofton must pay the fine and whether the additional yearlong sentence would be imposed. That commander can't change the not guilty verdict or increase the sentence.