A military appellate court has upheld the conviction of a former U.S. Navy chief who pleaded guilty last year to sex crimes that occurred while he was stationed in Bahrain.
The case of former Chief Logistics Specialist Calvin Halfacre was one of a rash of sex and trafficking cases involving Thai women and sailors stationed on the Middle Eastern island in 2017.
That year, three women working as prostitutes accused Halfacre of brutally raping them in his off-base apartment.
Navy prosecutors lost track of the women and none were available to testify against the chief at his trial in 2019.
The married father ended up signing a deal early last year that saw him plead guilty to paying the women for sex in exchange for the government withdrawing the sexual assault charges.
At 18, Mary began roaming the bars and clubs outside of Naval Support Activity Bahrain, looking for U.S. sailor clients.
Navy judge Capt. Arthur Gaston sentenced him to 30 months in the brig, a bad-conduct discharge and reduction in rank to E-1.
An appeal filed in the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals by Halfacre’s attorney later argued that the judge improperly considered evidence at sentencing involving the sexual assault allegations, which went beyond the prostitution charges to which Halfacre pleaded guilty.
But in a decision by the three-judge panel released on Nov. 30, the appeals court ruled that Gaston did not err when he considered rape evidence, including a victim impact statement by one of Halfacre’s accusers.
Gaston currently is assigned to the appeals court, but he works on a different panel than the one that weighed Halfacre’s appeal.
While Halfacre’s civilian attorney, Phil Cave, argued that Gaston could not consider the sexual assault evidence since his client only pleaded guilty to patronizing prostitutes, the appeals court wrote that the judge had applied the law correctly.
In its analysis, the panel wrote that while Halfacre was convicted on three specifications of patronizing a prostitute, “they were not run-of-the-mill transactions, but rather extremely aggravated events that left each of the three women with significant physical and emotional harm.”
The women each told investigators that they agreed to have vaginal sex with Halfacre in exchange for money, but that he anally raped them against their will.
The panel wrote that the aggravation evidence provided “context for the offenses for which (Halfacre) was convicted.”
The appeals panel also rejected Cave’s argument that the women were not “victims” since Halfacre was only convicted of patronizing prostitutes, and that evidence regarding alleged rape was therefore not applicable.
“Assuming without deciding that prostitutes are not ‘victims’ but rather co-participants in a ‘victim-less crime,’ the evidence of (Halfacre’s) alleged sexual assaults during the course of his adjudicated misconduct are nevertheless ‘circumstances surrounding the offense’ of patronizing a prostitute,” the ruling states.
The judge considering the sexual assault evidence “was proper…because it was inextricably interwoven with the facts and circumstances of the convicted offenses and painted a complete picture” for the sentencing judge, the panel wrote.
The appeal panel also rejected Cave’s argument that Halfacre’s 30-month sentence to the brig was unduly harsh.
The panel wrote that Halfacre’s team negotiated so that no confinement longer than 30 months would be levied, and Gaston properly confirmed that Halfacre entered into the deal of his own free will.
NCIS probes revealed evidence that U.S. sailors were housing prostitutes in their apartments, seizing the women’s passports and taking a cut of their earnings ― profiting from the sex trade that services shipmates in Bahrain.
Such a sentence was also appropriate given the misconduct, according to the panel.
“We are convinced that justice was done and (Halfacre) received the punishment he deserves,” the panel wrote.
Cave declined to comment on the ruling but wrote in an email that he expects to petition the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces over the case.
Halfacre remains confined at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston, South Carolina, and is facing new criminal charges for allegedly raping a woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in February 2019.
That alleged crime occurred roughly a month before he pleaded guilty to paying the Thai women in Bahrain for sex.