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Fort Bliss soldier found guilty on two sexual assault charges

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Update 5:27 p.m. June 18.

Pfc. Christian Alvarado was found guilty by a military judge Friday afternoon of sexually assaulting Pfc. Asia Graham and another woman. He was acquitted on other two other sexual charges.

Judge Robert Shuck sentenced him to 18 years and three months in prison. Prosecutors had asked for 24 years and defense lawyers asked for a two-year sentence.

Original story

Inside a pale yellow building at Fort Bliss, emotions were raw in the court martial of Pfc. Christian Alvarado, who is accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. Extra military police were on guard during closing arguments Friday and all the seats were filled in the small courtroom after the week-long trial.

“He has lied and manipulated women so long he thinks he can convince anyone,” the prosecutor, Maj. Shanna Cronin, said during closing arguments. 

But Alvarado’s defense said the allegations were nothing more than fabrications intended to harm the soldier. 

“People lie, including the women who say they were sexually assaulted,” said Sherilyn Bunn, Alvarado’s defense counsel. 

A total of five women reported they were sexually assaulted by Alvarado. His accusers include two fellow soldiers. Pfc. Asia Graham, the only woman named in the charges, died months after she reported the sexual assault. One of the women declined to participate and those charges were dismissed. Their names were used in court, but El Paso Matters does not identify living victims of alleged sexual assault without their consent.

The military trial comes at a time when the Army is facing heavy criticism and pressure to do more to prevent and prosecute sexual assault after several high profile cases.

Three of the women who testified that Alvarado sexually assaulted them were in the courtroom for closing arguments. 

Graham died on New Year’s Eve. This week, Army officials said she died of a drug overdose. Her mother and two brothers were in the courtroom for closing arguments.

In opening arguments, government counsel Capt. Thomas Lewis said the women had three things in common: “They liked private Alvarado. They trusted him and that trust was betrayed.”

Alvarado took the stand in his own defense and testified the sex was consentual.

Two of the women who testified gave detailed accounts of the alleged sexual assaults. One said she had a brief sexual relationship with Alvarado. She said he choked her while trying to sexually assault her as her two children slept in another room.

“He got on top, pushed me down, put his hand around my throat,” she said. She testified things got “blurry and dark” and she worried about her two children asleep in the house in another room. 

After she went limp, she said Alvarado seemed startled and jumped off her. She ran to her bedroom and locked the door.

Alvarado testified the woman liked rough sex and told him, “Girls like it when you’re rough with them.” The woman denied saying that during the cross examination by Alvarado’s defense counsel. 

The oher witness, Alvarado’s ex-girlfriend from his hometown of Mesa, Arizona, testified he sexually assaulted her twice at her home. “I wish in the moment I had screamed for my family,” she said and burst into tears.

She testified that after an argument, Alvarado “tackled me” and then “grabbed me by my ponytail and lifted me off the ground.” 

During her testimony, Alvarado was visibly upset and seemed to be quietly crying at the table where he sat with his defense attorneys. When he testified, he denied sexually assaulted her and said instead it was consensual “makeup” sex after they argued.

Prosecutors raised the question of whether some of the women who reported the sexual assaults were able to consent, as Alvardo claimed they did. A soldier who took the stand said she woke up “drunk and confused” in a hotel room as Alvarado was leaving. She testified she met him at a shooting range earlier in the day and invited him to a party that night. 

Pfc. Jovan Elliott testified he was at the party and witnessed the two “going shot for shot” and then leaving together. He later caught up with Alvarado at the hotel after missing a curfew established by Fort Bliss during the pandemic. When he arrived he said the female soldier had “drunk eyes” and “the smell of alcohol on her breath when she talked.” Alvarado testified “she did not pass out” when they were having sex.

Alvarado is charged with sexually assaulting Graham when she was unconscious. His roommate at the time, Pfc. Marzel Pancarte , testified that Alvarado, Graham, and another female soldier were drinking heavily in their quarters. He said Graham was “having trouble walking” and Alvarado had to “hold her up” as they left on the night of the alleged sexual assault. 

Alvarado told Army Criminal Investigation Command agents that Graham was awake but later said during a polygraph interview that maybe she passed out “half-way through.”

His defense attorneys brought in an expert witness to testify that a series of long interviews and polygraph tests that took more than 10 hours could have led to a false confession. 

Alvarado’s defense attorney, Capt. Pace Jaworski, asked his client why he thought he was brought in for questioning. Alvarado said he believed it involved Graham allegedly selling drugs in the barracks. Jaworski asked if the reason he didn’t report the alleged drug sales was because he was “concerned about the impact on her career?” Alvarado answered, “Yes, sir.” 

Defense counsel also asked Alvarado about questions from investigators about his sexual history. Alvarado testified the line of questioning was disturbing because he’d been molested as a child by one of his mother’s friends and cried on the witness stand.

He testified that he took two polygraph tests because he thought it would help him clear his name. But Alvarado said afterwards, “I was beginning to doubt myself. I was believing the instruments.”

Judge Robert Shuck asked Alvarado during his testimony if Graham was unconscious. “She was never unconscious,” Alvarado answered.

During cross examination, government prosecutor Cronin listed a series of statements Alvarado gave to investigators and defense counsel that Cronin said were either half true or outright lies. They ranged from attending college on a football scholarship to his top-level security clearance in the Army. 

She also questioned him about whether he had a book where he kept a tally of many of his sexual partners. He verified he did but said his wife found it and destroyed it. “Was Asia Graham in that book?” she asked.

 “Yes, ma’am,” Alvarado replied.

Cronin asked about Graham’s accusations when she went to the barracks to file her complaint. 

“Asia actually called you a rapist?” Cronin asked. 

“ Yes, ma’am,” Alvarado answered.

Judge Shuck is expected to hand down a verdict Friday afternoon.

Cover photo: Christian Alvarado, right, is accused of sexually assaulting Pfc. Asia Graham and other women.

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Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga is multimedia editor for El Paso Matters. She has dedicated her career as a journalist to reporting stories on both sides of the border for readers, viewers and public radio listeners. She previously served as Mexico City and Border Bureau Chief for a group of television stations. She also serves as news director at public radio KTEP. You can listen to stories by her on air at 88.5 FM and online at KTEP.org.

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