Metropolis: Wednesday, September 21, 2005
If the military could win a conviction, ‘there’s no reason a seasoned prosecutor couldn’t do it,’ the teacher said.
Military Justice

A North Texas woman turned to the Marines when the Tarrant County D.A. wouldn’t take her sex assault case.


The woman mistakenly believed that everyone understands the rules these days — that “stop” really does mean “stop,” that what you may have been doing a minute before you said no doesn’t matter, and that consent for the most intimate physical connection between two people can be withdrawn at any time.

So after her boyfriend forced himself upon her late one night in his apartment near Hulen Mall, the woman said, she was stunned to learn that he wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it.

Tarrant County prosecutors declined to present the woman’s case to a grand jury because of what they characterized as insufficient evidence.

When the district attorney declined to seek an indictment, the woman contacted her boyfriend’s employer — the U.S. Marines. And based on the same facts the woman presented to Fort Worth police and Tarrant County prosecutors, a Naval Criminal Investigations Service agent built a case that resulted in her boyfriend, former Staff Sgt. Johnny Odell Bice, being court-martialed, convicted of forcible sodomy, and sentenced to 22 months behind bars.

And while the woman, a North Texas school teacher in her 30s, said she understands that sexual assault cases can be difficult to prove, she doesn’t understand why the military could successfully prosecute a case that the district attorney would not. “If the military could do it, there’s no reason a seasoned prosecutor couldn’t do it,’’ she said.

Her anger with the criminal justice system, however, goes beyond her problems with Tarrant County. After Bice, now 31, completed his sentence, he was indicted by a grand jury in Odessa on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender, officials there said. This time, the Ector County district attorney dismissed the case.

“I am completely disgusted with the fact that they let him walk,’’ the woman said. “The law is designed to put people like him back in prison.’’

Today, Bice, who has since registered as a sex offender, is living in a Midland apartment, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He did not reply to a letter sent seeking comment, nor did he or his attorney respond to phone messages left at the attorney’s office.

During his court martial, Bice testified that he never intended to hurt the teacher and thought she was enjoying herself until he heard her gasp an “ouch.’’

The story is one that would have likely never occurred, or ever been publicly told, were it not for the internet. The pair met in cyberspace, and the woman told her story, albeit anonymously, on a web site that opposes Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry ( Fort Worth Weekly contacted the teacher through the site’s operator, and she spoke on the condition that she would not be identified.

The teacher said she and Bice, who was separated from his wife, had a brief affair after their first face-to-face meeting at Uncle Julio’s in the early spring of 2002. They experienced “some pretty instant chemistry,’’ she testified during the court martial.

In the wee hours of a Saturday morning, the teacher and Bice arranged by e-mail to hook up. According to her report to police, the pair engaged in several sexual acts before he told her he was going to enter her anally. When she told him she wasn’t interested, she said, he pushed her flat on her stomach on his bed and forced himself into her. She screamed and cried. He put his left hand over her mouth. He pulled her hair. “Get off of me,’’ she yelled over and over. She tried to push up from the bed, but lacked the strength. When he stopped, he said, “Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with you?” She told him, “When someone tells you no, it f—ing means no.’’

She told police that she had been assaulted. They took her statement and Bice’s and sent the case to the district attorney.

Tarrant County prosecutors said it appeared to be a hard-to-sort-out, he-said/she-said case. “According to both of them, she specifically went over to Bice’s home for the purpose of having sex,’’ said Senior Staff Attorney David Montague. Their stories diverged on the key issue of whether the anal intercourse was consensual. Further, the case came to the DA without a recommendation from police on how it should be handled.

“It was reviewed by an intake attorney, and that attorney rejected it for prosecution, and that was the end of it for us,’’ Montague said. That decision could have been appealed but apparently was not, he said.

Frustrated by the prosecutors’ response. the teacher complained to military officials — and they took the case. Bice was court-martialed in February 2003. “He grabbed the back of my hair and was pulling it so hard I could feel my hair ripping out of my head,’’ the teacher said, according to a transcript of that proceeding. The assault, she said, lasted several minutes. “I felt like I was being ripped in half.’’

Bice, however, testified that everything he and the teacher did was consensual. “She never said or did anything to make me think that she didn’t want to do this, so I continued.’’ Only when she gasped in pain did he quit. “After I realized I hurt her or something, I tried to make sure she was OK, and she got upset and left.

“I never meant to hurt her,’’ he testified. “I never wanted to do that.’’

The military judge found Bice not guilty of vaginally raping the woman but convicted him of committing sodomy by force. John D. Cramer, the Tarrant County prosecutor who initially handled the case, said requirements for trying a case under military disciplinary code and state law are not the same. “It is not unusual for different agencies to reach what appears to be conflicting results,’’ he said.

It was not immediately clear if Bice appealed his conviction or how much time he spent locked up. But when he was released, he resettled in West Texas, where officials said he was indicted earlier this year on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender. That case, however, was dismissed. “He attempted to register up in the Panhandle and was told he didn’t have the proper paperwork,’’ Ector County District Attorney John Smith said. “This fellow attempted to follow the law.’’

The teacher’s husband, a North Texas attorney familiar with how criminal cases play out, said Smith’s explanation for dismissing the case sounded all too common: “He tried — which is what every defendant says when he fails to register.’’

Since the assault, the teacher’s been training as an advocate for sexual assault victims at a North Texas women’s center. And she hopes her story might help others understand that any unwanted sexual contact is an assault. “No means no,’’ she said. “If you’re not willing to abide by that, it’s a crime.’’

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