In a court-martial that opened with suggestions of pedophilia and ended as a divorce drama, an Air Force Weather Agency captain was acquitted Thursday on a single charge of “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.”
A panel of five Air Force officers — three women and two men — found Capt. Kent Hornsby, 29, not guilty after nearly three hours of deliberations.
The charges stemmed from a hidden-camera recording Hornsby made of his sister-in-law, who was then 15, in the bathroom of her home. The incident occurred during a family Thanksgiving celebration on Nov. 25, 2010, in Columbus, Ohio. The nine-minute recording, played in court, showed the girl brushing her teeth and washing her face while wearing a black slip but showed no nudity.
The girl testified that she found the camera and confronted Hornsby, as did her sister, his wife, Abbey Reif-Hornsby. They gave the tape to their mother but did not report it to authorities until May 2012, when a divorce lawyer advised Reif-Hornsby to give a copy to a military investigator.
Prosecutors at first had charged Hornsby with indecent conduct, suggesting that he intended to film the girl because of an illicit crush and saying he had made inappropriate comments to her during video chats.
But the military judge, Lt. Col. Natalie Richardson, ruled that no indecency was involved because the tape revealed no nudity.
Hornsby's attorneys presented no witnesses or evidence during the court-martial, which began Monday, but tried to discredit the testimony of Reif-Hornsby and her sister. They accused Reif-Hornsby of carrying out a vendetta because of her husband's alleged infidelity. The couple are in the process of divorcing.
“She's a jilted ex-wife. She's as bitter as they come,” said Capt. J. Robert Black, who delivered the closing argument Thursday morning. “This is about smearing (Hornsby's) name.”
Black pointed to messages sent to friends from Reif-Hornsby's Facebook account, including one that threatened to “(expletive) up” his career.
Black noted that the couple had previously taken revealing photos of themselves and suggested that Hornsby may have set up the camera to record himself and his wife in the shower — a scenario Black described as “more plausible” than that he was trying to record his sister-in-law.
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Black accused Reif-Hornsby of being evasive in her testimony. He wondered why she, her sister and their mother waited so long to report the videotaping incident if it upset them.
“What do they do? Nothing,” Black said. “They don't tell police, they don't tell his unit, they don't tell child protective services.”
He alleged that she kept quiet about the video because she hoped to keep the medical and other benefits that come with being a military spouse. She had acknowledged waiting because she needed medical care for an unspecified life-threatening condition.
“This is a case about blackmail, pure and simple,” Black said.
The co-prosecutor, 1st Lt. Allen Tate, argued that the video itself showed that Hornsby intended to videotape his young sister-in-law. She had alerted the others staying at the house — her brother, sister, and Hornsby — that she would using the bathroom for a while to get ready for bed and offered them a chance to use it first. That gave him a chance to set up the camera.
“You've seen on video just what the accused is willing to do when no one is looking,” Tate said.
The jury sided with Hornsby. Under military rules, at least two-thirds of the members of a military jury panel must vote to convict for a defendant to be convicted — in this case, four out of five. The vote is not revealed.
Had he been convicted, Hornsby could have faced a term of up to five years in a military prison, loss of pay and dismissal from the Air Force.
Now he will be free to return to duty.