By Rita Giordano

Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA – Charges have been brought against a male Army officer accused of raping a female New Jersey National Guard lieutenant in the summer.

First Lt. Michael Hall of Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team was charged Friday under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and adultery, according to an Army statement.

An Article 38 hearing, similar to a grand jury hearing, had been scheduled for Tuesday at Camp Shelby, the Mississippi base where Hall and his accuser, a 26-year-old Atlantic County woman, were training before deployment to Iraq. The hearing was postponed to give the defense time to prepare, said Lt. Col. Richard Steele, spokesman for the First Army.

However, the woman’s lawyer, Frederick Klepp of Cherry Hill, N.J., said it was unlikely that his client would attend the hearing unless her wish to be allowed to leave the military was granted.

“As a civilian, she will cooperate 100 percent,” Klepp said. “Unless her status with the military is resolved and she is separated from the Army, she is not going on a military installation.”

The Army has classified the woman as absent without leave because she has refused to return to Camp Shelby, where Hall is still based, since a two-week leave granted after the alleged rape.

According to her lawyer, she would have been willing to report to a base nearer her home earlier but now only wants out of the service. Only recently, after news media accounts of the case, did the Army relent and say she could report to any base.

In an Internet account and in statements to reporters, the woman has contended that the military treated her harshly after she reported the attack, including subjecting her to a lengthy interrogation and threatening her about the consequences of filing a false report.

Steele said that the case could proceed without the woman’s cooperation because she had made a sworn statement about the alleged attack, but that it was in her “best interests” to voluntarily return to duty.

Regarding the woman’s desire to leave the service, Steele said, “We cannot make any determination on her unless she returns to duty.”

Other members of the 278th are expected to leave for Iraq shortly, Steele said.

(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-15-04 2145EST

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