Last edited: February 14, 2005

Appeals Court Throws Out Sodomy Conviction

Air Force Times, October 26, 1998
Springfield, VA 22159
Fax: 703-750-8601

By Nick Adde

The military’s highest civilian court has set aside a junior officer’s conviction for sodomy with a 16-year-old youth in Oklahoma.

The case reinforces the law requiring commanders to avoid conflicts between their personal interests and their military authority to prosecute subordinates.

If the Air Force decides to retry Capt. Walter L. Dinges, the junior officer will get a chance to prove in court that his supervisor wrongly took a special interest and active role in his prosecution when regulations dictated that he step away from the case. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in Dinges’ favor Sept. 12 after hearing arguments on the case May 12.

Dinges was convicted in 1994 for having consensual homosexual relations with a 16-year-old boy while he worked as an assistant scoutmaster with the youth’s Boy Scout troop.

At the time of the incident, Dinges was assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, but was pursuing a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Oklahoma. Oklahoma prosecutors declined to prosecute, because under that state’s laws, no crime had taken place.

Col. Randy Mills, who commanded the 72nd Air Base Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., was told of the allegations by a civilian Boy Scout official and directed that an investigation be conducted by agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. When Air Force authorities confronted Dinges with the specifics of his relationship with the boy, he pleaded guilty to sodomy, court records state.

Dinges was sentenced to dismissal from the service as a captain, five months in prison and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Conflict of Interest

Shortly after his conviction, Dinges learned that Mills was a state district commander with the Boy Scouts. He appealed his conviction, citing Mills’ conflict of interest.

A ruling in a 1994 Navy case, United States vs. Nix, established guidelines that require commanders to remove themselves from criminal cases in which they have a personal interest.

In such instances, those commanders must allow the next-highest person in the chain of command to conduct investigations and prosecute defendants.

Instead of doing that, Dinges argued, Mills allegedly had the junior officer transferred to his personal staff and then oversaw his investigation and prosecution.

After a lower Air Force appeals court upheld the conviction, Dinges asked the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review the case.

Defense lawyer Charles W. Gittins argued that Mills had no right to transfer Dinges to his command and then oversee his prosecution. If anything, Gittins told the five civilian judges, the Air Force should have discharged Dinges under the Defense Department’s "don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue" policy, which addresses homosexuality in the military.

Government lawyers countered that Mills acted as any good commander would after learning that a service member is facing a criminal sodomy charge. The transfer ensured that Dinges’ trial would take place at Tinker, near where the crime occurred. The judges unanimously agreed that Mills’ actions raised questions about his personal interest in the case, given his connection with the Boy Scouts. The court stopped short of overturning the conviction altogether, citing the lack of evidence regarding Mills’ motivation for handling the case the way he did.

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