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April 6, 2013

Sexual assault charges against former Kansas cadet leader reduced

A Saline County judge has dropped several charges, including the most serious one, filed against a former cadet leader accused of sexually assaulting a younger cadet at an embattled Kansas military school.

A Saline County judge has dropped several charges, including the most serious one, filed against a former cadet leader accused of sexually assaulting a younger cadet at an embattled Kansas military school.

Judge Patrick Thompson decided Friday to try 18-year-old David James Burke, of McLean, Va., on only three of eight charges filed against him.

Burke had been charged with seven counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of attempted aggravated criminal sodomy. But after a preliminary hearing, Thompson found there was only enough evidence to proceed with three of the aggravated sexual battery counts.

A lawyer for Burke has said his client denies anything happened in the way of a felony.

“This was horseplay,” said Attorney Richard Blackwell, who represents Burke. “This might have been hazing.”

The allegations that Burke sexually assaulted a cadet at St. John's Military School come as the Salina school fights a federal lawsuit filed by 11 former cadets and their families against the boarding school. The students contend the school's quasi-military cadet program, which gives higher-ranking cadets the power to discipline students, encourages physical and mental abuse. St. John's has denied a culture of abuse exists at the school. The allegations against Burke are not part of that ongoing civil lawsuit.

During the preliminary hearing for Burke, a 17-year-old cadet described several instances when Burke pantomimed sexual acts toward him in his room at the school in late October and early November 2012. The teenager said the older cadet's behavior had made him feel “discouraged and fearful.”

After the boy raised concerns in January, St. John's officials conducted an internal investigation and notified authorities. Burke also was stripped of his leadership duties and sent home.

Burke's trial is scheduled to begin July 31. The sentencing range for each count is two years and seven months to 11 years and four months in prison, depending on criminal history.

Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

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