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Thursday, March 18, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gen. Hale Stays Out Of Jail -- Misconduct Brings Fine, Pension Cuts

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

FORT LEWIS - Retired Maj. Gen. David Hale, who pleaded guilty to charges he had improper relations with the wives of four subordinate officers, was obviously relieved yesterday when he found out he wasn't going to jail.

Hale leapt from his chair as soon as the one-day hearing was adjourned and hugged his civilian lawyer, Frank Spinner. Then he turned to the female member of his legal team - Lt. Col. Linda Webster - and reached to hug her when he caught himself. "May I?" he asked first, smiling, and then wrapped her in a bearhug and slapped her back.

As the second Army general court-martialed in nearly half a century, Hale could have been imprisoned and dismissed from the service. Instead, he was given an official reprimand and fined $10,000, and his $6,312-a-month pension is to be docked by $1,000 a month for one year. Hale had no comment after the sentencing.

The court-martial was conducted at Fort Lewis because it had to be convened by an officer who outranked Hale, as does Lt. Gen. George Crocker, commander at Fort Lewis. Hale lives on the East Coast.

It isn't known whether Hale's sentence was the deal Hale made Tuesday with Army prosecutors and Crocker - or whether it was the sentencing recommendation of the judge presiding over the hearing, Col. Stephen Saynisch. A practice unique to the military-justice system lets an accused person who enters a plea agreement try to win a more favorable sentence from the presiding judge.

Hale takes the stand

Earlier yesterday, Hale took the witness stand and described, as his voice cracked, how he sank into a moral abyss as his marriage of 29 years fell apart in 1996 and 1997. During that time, he said, he turned to the wives of his subordinate officers for comfort - eventually having improper sexual relations with at least three of them.

Hale, 53, who once picked up a live enemy grenade and flung it from a foxhole during a firefight in Vietnam - a move that won him the Silver Star Medal - called his behavior during the last two years of his career "a reprehensible aberration."

By not asking that Hale be dismissed from the service, Maj. Michael Mulligan, the Army prosecutor, acknowledged the general's distinguished career. "He is one of those old soldiers who served in a dark time of our history," he said.

Mulligan had asked Saynisch to sentence Hale to an unspecified prison term, to trim his pension permanently and to fine him an amount equal to the cost of the Department of Defense investigation into his philandering - upward of $125,000.

He accused the general of "deceit, betrayal and cover-up."

`He is a moral coward'

"There are two types of courage: physical and moral," said Mulligan. "He possesses physical courage," proven by a sterling combat record that also earned the 1967 West Point graduate a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Soldier's Medal for Heroism.

"But he is a moral coward we should never respect," Mulligan said.

"We have a higher standard in the officers' corps than in civilian life or politics. Officers don't quibble over words. We live by our word. Our word is our bond."

Indeed, Mulligan refused to shake Hale's hand as he walked from the courtroom after the verdict was read.

Spinner argued that confinement would not be appropriate for a man whose moral lapse must be weighed against a career that was universally acknowledged to be among the brightest in the Army.

Nor should Hale be made an example by a military struggling with the issue of gender integration, Spinner said. The mere fact that Hale was court-martialed at all - the second general tried for crimes since 1952 - is punishment enough, the attorney added.

"I question the value of putting handcuffs on his wrists and locking him in a cell," Spinner said. "The humiliation he has suffered in the last year is unimaginable."

Hale answered questions posed by Saynisch for nearly two hours, elaborating on the web of affairs in which at one time he was seeing three of the women. He choked back tears as he read a prepared statement explaining how his life and career had unraveled.

He was apologetic and chagrined - and defiant, in insisting that the relationships were all consensual. At least one of the women, Donnamaria Carpino, had accused Hale of blackmailing her into a sexual relationship by threatening to derail her husband's career.

`There is no excuse'

"I cannot express adequately how sorry I am, how embarrassed I am, for the pain I've brought on the U.S. Army, my fellow soldiers and my record of service," Hale said. "There is no excuse."

He told the judge that the very strength he had relied on to carry him through combat and the most difficult postings in the military mutated into a "false pride" that prevented him from seeking help as his marriage collapsed. His fear of jeopardizing his career - the only thing he felt he had left - caused him to accept the posting in Izmir, Turkey, as the commanding NATO general in Eastern Europe, further distancing him from family and friends.

"I thought I was being selfless. I was being senseless," he said.

Hale, known as a compassionate commander, said that attribute became his Achilles' heel as he sought solace with the wives of officers who served under him in that outpost.

In three of the instances, he said, the relationships sprang from friendships and then spun out of control. And Carpino, Hale insisted, was infatuated with him.

The charges to which Hale pleaded guilty state that he had sex with two of the women before they were divorced. In one case, the relationship occurred before he was divorced as well. In his statement to the judge, Hale acknowledged sex with another of the women but insisted that they had waited until her divorce was final.

The emotional devastation wrought by Hale's philandering was best characterized by a witness for the prosecution, Maj. Brian Maka, whose wife, Melina, became involved with Hale while Maka was Hale's aide-de-camp in Turkey. Hale and Mrs. Maka engaged in public displays of affection, according to the charges, that led to rumors and undermined morale among the troops.

Disappointment in `father figure'

"I thought of General Hale as a father figure, someone to revere. He was truly a great American," Maka said. "I don't think anybody had disappointed me more."

At one point, Hale counseled the Makas as their marriage crumbled, and he flew to Turkey to spend Christmas with them after he had taken his latest assignment as deputy inspector general of the Army at the Pentagon in November 1998.

Maka said he was chagrined when, upon returning to the states in July 1998 - as the story about Hale broke in the national media - he found the general was staying with his ex-wife. Hale acknowledged that, at one point, he had talked to her about marriage.

Also testifying was Maj. Gregory Julian, whose marriage fell apart when his wife became "infatuated" with Hale while Julian served as the general's public-information officer in Turkey. Again, Hale offered to counsel the struggling couple - a move Julian now believes was a "front" to further the illicit relationship.

Hale acknowledged he spent a week with Julian's wife in Las Vegas in November 1998, before her divorce was final. He also gave her more than $15,000 in the months after she left her husband.

Julian told the judge that he and his two daughters wept together as his marriage disintegrated. Then Julian was asked by prosecutors what he thought of the general today.

His response was profoundly understated: "I don't respect the decisions and choices he made."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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