Naples court hears girl describe alleged touching by sailor

NAPLES, Italy - The girl at the center of a case against a chief petty officer charged with indecent acts with a minor meekly testified Tuesday about the alleged incidents, and never glanced at the man who once was a close family friend.

The girl, who was 12 years old at the time Chief Petty Officer Felix Correa allegedly fondled her, spoke slowly, her voice muffled as she propped her chin either in cupped hands or on the witness stand for most of her roughly two-hour testimony.

She is not being identified because of her age.

The prosecution alleges Correa inappropriately touched the girl in the spring of 2005. The girl had been staying with the Correas while her mother, also a sailor, was in the United States for naval schooling, according to testimony.

The girl told the court that Correa had touched and fondled her. When asked why she didn't say anything, she said, "I felt awkward. I didn't know what to do about the situation. Even if I learned about it (good, bad touching) in school, I didn't know how to act."

The girl did talk to her former homeroom teacher about what happened, she told the court, because Correa's wife and daughter were going out of town and she didn't want to be alone with him.

Originally, she said, she liked the idea of staying with the Correas because they "seemed down to earth and more laid back."

During cross-examination of the girl, Correa's civilian defense attorney, David Sheldon, pointed out inconsistencies between what she said Tuesday, and previous testimony and statements, such as what she was wearing during the alleged incidents, whether she was seated at the computer or on a rug in Correa's home.

Sheldon painted a picture of an angry girl who resented "Mr. Felix" and Correa's wife for scolding her, imposing chores, and limiting how much time she could spend e-mailing friends. Staying with the Correas, who lived off-base, also meant she was separated from her friends.

Sheldon too pointed out the girl, now 13, had lied to her mother, school officials, and to the Correas, and had stolen $100 cash her mother left to offset the costs of her care.

Prosecutor Lt. Richard Federico provided a different scenario. He called several elementary school officials who testified the girl was known to be honest, and was a bright, articulate, outgoing honor student.

Tuesday's general court-martial session ended with Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Susan Farrar, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the support site Navy hospital, who testified she examined the girl the day after the alleged incident and noted "an abrasion that could be consistent with" manual contact. However, the abrasion could have been caused in other ways, and she was unable to determine with certainty when or how it happened.

Correa pleaded guilty Monday to two unrelated charges of sexual harassment and fraternization. On the two charges for which he pleaded guilty, Correa faces a maximum sentence of four years' confinement, reduction to the lowest paygrade of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. He faces an additional seven years if the jury convicts him on the charge of indecent acts with a minor.