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Sixth Woman Testifies Aganist McKinney in Harrassment Suit

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times

The sixth woman to accuse the Army's top enlisted man of sexual misconduct testified Wednesday that he grabbed her around the waist as she sought to leave his hotel room, and demanded to know if she wanted to kiss him.

"Hell, no, that's the last thing I wanted to do," Sgt. 1st Class Rita Jezcala, a Florida recruiter, said she told Sgt. Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney. While McKinney stopped his approach, she said she considered his conduct "not pleasurable. It was uncomfortable, it was unwelcome, it was unprofessional."

Jezcala was testifying at the eighth week of a pretrial hearing on 22 misconduct counts against McKinney, a 29-year Army veteran. The counts could theoretically put him in jail for 57 years, although some lawyers say it is more likely that an adverse judgment could force him out of the Army with reduced benefits.

Jezcala's account followed a pattern described by most of McKinney's other accusers. They have testified that McKinney sought to win their trust through personal and often emotional conversations, then pressured them for sex, sometimes touching them while he did.

Jezcala told how McKinney met her during a June 1996, tour of Florida in which he invited her to dinner. Two months later, on a second trip to Florida, he invited her to his personal quarters at Patrick Air Force Base, she said, and engaged her in a painful discussion of her pending divorce.

While beginning to leave, "I was grabbed from behind and pulled back," Jazcala testified. "He grabbed me by my waist." But when she tried to hold him at bay, he relented and dropped his hands.

She said a male colleague, another Florida recruiter, had warned her about the motives of McKinney, whose job as top enlisted man made him one of the Army's chief preachers against sexual harassment.

Jezcala said she believed it was important to train soldiers to be more sensitive to sexual harassment. But, she added, pointing at McKinney, "I realized I can't train Sgt. Maj. of the Army McKinney. He's up at the Pentagon. He's my superior," she said.

The day's testimony also brought the first public tears from McKinney's wife, who has been at his side during the proceeding.

Wilhelmina McKinney cried quietly when Jezcala testified that a woman she believed to be McKinney had called her number and asked who she was.

Jezcala said she received a call identified by her "caller ID" equipment as coming from McKinney's home. The caller didn't identify herself, but asked who she was, and whether "Minnie" was there.

In cross-examination, McKinney's lawyer probed for the kind of details about Jezcala's personal life that would likely enrage feminists.

He asked what she wore to her first meeting with McKinney - a June 1996, lunch. A tank top and a sarong skirt, Jezcala told him.

"You wore a bra under your tank top?" asked Charles W. Gittins, McKinney's lawyer.

"Yes, sir, all the time, sir," Jezcala replied curtly.

The pretrial hearing may wind up next Monday with closing arguments. Army officials would then determine whether there was enough evidence against McKinney to court-martial him.