EGLIN AFB — A bipartisan resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives involving the 2017 court-martial of an airman who is still at Eglin Air Force Base would eliminate any time limit on prosecuting rape cases under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The resolution, introduced April 29 by Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, has already gathered 19 co-sponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose district includes Eglin. A number of other Florida lawmakers — Republicans Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ross Spano, John Rutherford, Ted Yoho, Greg Steube and Democrats Ted Deutch, Val Butler Demmings, Kathy Castor and Darren Soto — also have signed on to the resolution.
The proposal has its beginnings in the 2000 rape of Harmony Allen, then 19 and in her third month in the Air Force training to be a radiology technician at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. According to an account in a recent CNN story on the resolution, called Harmony's Law, Allen was at an on-base club where instructors and students ate and drank when she was approached by then-Master Sgt. Richard Collins.
Because Collins appeared intoxicated, Allen offered to call him a cab, and when he refused she offered to drive him home. When they arrived there, Allen walked Collins into the foyer, where he attacked and raped her. According to the CNN account, Collins reported the rape on multiple occasions between 2001 and 2011, but no investigation was launched until 2014, after Allen had left military service.
Court documents in the case note that Allen didn't report the rape until three days later, and initially refused to identify her attacker, leading military and civilian authorities to drop their investigation. Allen made a rape allegation in 2011, but again refused to identify her attacker, and it wasn't until a third report to Air Force authorities that she identified her attacker and the case proceeded.
The case went to court-martial in February 2017 at Eglin, where Collins was stationed. According to an Air Force summary, Collins "was found guilty by officer and enlisted members of rape. He was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, confinement for 16 years and six months, reduction to Airman Basic (E-1) and total forfeitures."
A year after Collins' conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in a separate rape case that the statute of limitations for prosecuting a rape case was five years. Further, the appeals court held that a 2006 law passed by Congress to eliminate statutes of limitation for rape cases was not retroactive.
In Collins' case, where the rape occurred in 2000 but no verdict was rendered until 2017, the military appeals court ruling gave him an opportunity to appeal his conviction. His appeal was granted, and last year the conviction was set aside and the sentence was overturned.
According to Eglin spokesman Andy Bourland, Collins is now on "appellate leave" status at the base, remaining at the rank of Airman Basic. While he and his family remain on base, he is not working but is under the jurisdiction of the Air Force District of Washington, D.C., Bourland said. Collins' wife continues to work at Eglin, Bourland said.
In a statement to CNN Friday, the Air Force recognized Allen's "overwhelming pain and suffering" and went on to note that she "will always be part of the Air Force family with continued access to professional helping resources through this difficult time."
Collins' conviction is not the only one overturned as a result of the 2018 ruling. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturned the 2014 conviction of Air Force Lt. Col. Michael J.D. Briggs in the 2005 rape of a female airman at Idaho's Mountain Home Air Force Base. The rape was not reported until 2014, and in its ruling on Briggs' appeal, the court concluded that "the applicable statute of limitations requires the finding and sentence to be set aside and the charge and specification to be dismissed."
According to a news release from Mast announcing Harmony's Law, the two overturned convictions may represent just the beginning of a possible flood of appeals of rape convictions. According to the release "there are dozens more (similar cases) in the appellate queue. There may well be hundreds of convicted rapists released early from their sentence and acquitted of their crimes by the time the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has an opportunity to rule on every ... appeal."
In the release, Mast and other resolution sponsors contend the 2018 appeal ruling goes against the clear intent of Congress, as expressed in the 1987 and 2006 National Defense Authorization Acts (annual legislation setting military policies) that there should be no statute of limitations for sexual assaults.
Harmony's Law would, among other things, express the intent of Congress that "the passage of time should not bar the prosecution of rape or sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
The news release from Mast's office also includes comments from Allen, who called the 2018 ruling "an unlawful technicality" that could allow other rapists "to avoid being held accountable and go free."