First Tailhook court-martial opening today in Virginia


NORFOLK, Va. -- After two years, thousands of witness interviews and extraordinary controversy, the Navy opens the first court-martial today in the Tailhook scandal.

A motion to dismiss the case was denied yesterday. The denial was announced nearly simultaneously with the news that two officers whose cases had been reopened this summer by the Navy -- Cmdrs. Robert C. Yakeley and Gregory E. Peairs -- have been cleared of any wrongdoing at the 1991 Navy fliers' convention in Las Vegas. Dozens of women reported being fondled and groped by officers during after-hours parties at the convention.

At the court-martial beginning today, Lt. David Samples, 28, a flier with Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 139, faces a single charge of assault. Lieutenant Samples has denied that he took part in passing a drunk, underage Las Vegas waitress through a gantlet of officers at the Las Vegas Hilton Sept. 7, 1991, stripping her pants.

He did admit being on the third floor of the hotel that night and said he saw the woman with her pants off following the assault.

If convicted, Lieutenant Samples faces a maximum five years' imprisonment and dismissal from the service.

With the clearing of Commanders Yakeley and Peairs, only the case of Capt. Frederic G. Ludwig Jr., president of the Tailhook Association during the 1991 convention and currently a student at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., remains to be decided of the five officers whose cases were reopened by the Navy this summer.

Previously cleared were Cmdr. Robert E. Stumpf, commander of the Navy's Blue Angels, and Capt. Richard F. Braden.

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