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Former 82nd chief of justice convicted of rape, assault

January 26, 2015 (Photo Credit: Capt. Ryan Reilly, Army)

An officer who previously served as the chief of military justice for the 82nd Airborne Division was convicted Sunday of rape, forcible sodomy, assault and disobeying an order from a superior officer.

Maj. Erik Burris, 39, was sentenced to 20 years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dismissal from the service, the XVIII Airborne Corps said in a statement.

The charges against Burris included offenses against multiple victims, according to the XVIII Airborne Corps.

When the allegations against Burris came to light, he was serving as the chief of military justice for the 82nd Airborne, and he supervised prosecutions of sexual assault cases in the division, officials said.

After six days of proceedings, the court-martial panel, or jury, found Burris guilty of two counts of rape, forcible sodomy, four counts of assault, and disobeying an order from a superior commissioned officer.

The panel also found Burris not guilty of four specifications of assault, two specifications of sexual assault, two specifications of forcible sodomy, and two specifications of communicating a threat.

Burris pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

A West Coast Fox News affiliate previously reported Burris was charged with raping his estranged wife and assaulting his children. In a March 2014 interview with Burris, Fox 40 reported that Burris said the allegations against him weren't reported until several months after his wife left him in late 2012.

Officials with the XVIII Airborne Corps declined to confirm the media report.

"Our policy is not to comment on information that might reveal the identities of sexual assault or minor victims," said Maj. Crystal Boring, a spokeswoman, in a statement.

The lawyer for Clint Lorance, who is fighting a murder conviction for the deaths of two Afghan men while deployed in 2012, cited the case against Burris in one of his legal filings.

In a Dec. 18 memo, attorney John Maher said Burris was the chief of justice for the 82nd Airborne Division from 2012 to 2013, during which time at least part of Lorance's case was being processed through the division's military justice office.

"The extent of Maj. Burris' involvement and influence in the conduct of this entire investigation and court-martial is critically relevant to our pending clemency requests," Maher wrote to the division commanding general. "It is altogether probable that Maj. Burris was to some extent distracted from his primary duties of properly supervising and training junior prosecutors in murder, rape, and serious cases. His attending to matters outside work involving his wife, children, career, his license to practice law, being investigated, facing a trial, destroyed career, and facing time in prison may have contributed to the succession of legal errors raised by the accused and counsel and presently before the commanding general."

Maher contends that his client did not receive a fair trial, and that the government withheld critical evidence before Lorance's court-martial, particularly regarding the identities of the men Lorance is accused of killing and their ties to improvised explosive device incidents.

Lorance's case has been controversial from the start, with his supporters believing he was punished for doing his job and trying to protect his men.

But his men, in testimony during Lorance's court-martial and in interviews with Army Times, criticized the former lieutenant's actions in Afghanistan, saying he was ignorant and overzealous despite his unfamiliarity with the unit's area of operations.

Lorance was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the July 2012 incident in southern Afghanistan. He also was convicted of threatening a local Afghan; firing an M14 rifle into a village and trying to have one of his soldiers lie about receiving incoming fire; and obstructing justice by making a false radio report after the two men on the motorcycle were killed.

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