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Army investigating groping claim against top sex crimes prosecutor

  |   March 7, 2014 at 9:49 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army's sex-crimes prosecutor is being investigated on claims he groped a female lawyer during a sexual-assault conference in 2011, Army officials said.

Officials said an investigation was recently opened against Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, who supervises 23 other special-victims prosecutors for the Army, after the lawyer reported the alleged 2011 incident, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Morse has not been charged in the case, but the revelation is the latest incident to hit the Pentagon as it struggles to address what some leaders have acknowledged is a scourge of sexual assaults in the military, the Post said.

The Army declined to comment publicly on the report, first published by the Stars and Stripes. However, two Army officials confirmed to the Post that Morse was under investigation after the female lawyer who once worked for him reported his alleged misconduct in a hotel room during a sexual-assault conference in Alexandria, Va.

Morse is chief of the Army's trial counsel assistant program, based at Fort Belvoir, Va., and trains prosecutors throughout the Army. The Post said Morse did not immediately return a phone call requesting a comment.

News of the investigation surfaced hours before the Senate voted on bills that would change military laws on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes.

The Senate rejected a bipartisan bill that would have removed military commanders from decisions over the prosecution of sexual assault cases in the armed forces. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., received 55 votes, five short of the 60 votes needed to advance to a floor vote, after Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., led the move to block the measure's advancement, the New York Times reported.

Gillibrand and supporters argued the proposal was necessary because victims weren't reporting sexual assault crimes for fear of reprisal, the Hill said. Opponents and Pentagon officials said commanders needed to maintain accountability to curb the problem of sexual assault within the military's ranks.

The Senate then unanimously agreed to proceed with a measure sponsored by McCaskill and Republicans Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. The legislation would require a civilian review if a prosecutor and commander disagree whether to litigate a sexual assault case. A vote on that bill is scheduled for next week.

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