The monster in uniform

Sacramento man convicted of stalking, assaulting Air Force service member he followed to England

His attorneys described it as a kinky marriage of young witches, forged in the Air Force but wilted over time. The prosecutor argued it as a clear-cut case of a sadistic husband terrorizing his spouse with years of sexual and physical violence.

On December 19, 2017, a powerful oracle in a black robe incanted the words that sent Christopher Mroz, 26, of Sacramento to federal prison for 15 years.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller gaveled the sentence after both sides struck a plea agreement that saw Mroz admitting to one count of stalking and two counts of assault by a member of the armed forces resulting in serious bodily injury.

The plea deal means a jury won’t hear the most disturbing crimes Mroz was accused of committing against the female service member he followed to England in 2012. But federal court records tell a story of a woman who continued to serve her country while trying to survive her tormenter.

According to its sentencing memo, the victim told the judge during her impact statement, “Living with Christopher Mroz had me constantly in fear.”

According to national statistics on sexual violence in the military, she is one of a precious few to secure anything resembling justice.

Mroz and his wife met in 2011, when both were going through basic training at an Air Force base in Texas. According to a motion filed by Mroz’s attorneys, the two bonded over their shared belief in “benevolent witchcraft”: She was an 18-year-old healer and he was a 20-year-old warlock. After the victim was transferred to England, the two married “by proxy” in May 2012, allowing Mroz to join his new bride.

It was roughly two months after the couple reunited in the United Kingdom, at the Royal Air Force Base in Lakenheath, that the abuse began. According to the plea agreement Mroz signed, he found numerous ways to torment her. He choked her repeatedly and forced himself on her. During one sexual assault, the victim grew dizzy and collapsed to the shower floor, where Mroz started kicking her.

In February 2013, Mroz stomped on the back of the victim’s neck as she tried to crawl away from his attack. Her head struck the kitchen floor and grew “a softball-sized knot,” court documents state. Two months later, Mroz “snapped a bone” in his wife’s arm after becoming infuriated at how she folded money, a sentencing memorandum states. Before calling for help, Mroz dragged his wife into the living room and staged things to make it look like she had fallen off a chair while cleaning a large fish tank, the plea agreement shows.

He later admitted to his mother that he broke his wife’s arm, an Air Force investigation revealed, but Mroz spent the next several months intimidating his wife from revealing his brutality.

The victim’s coworkers noticed a drastic change in her demeanor, court documents say. Her bubbly and outgoing personality faded. She had grown withdrawn, shed weight and often showed up to work with unexplained injuries that they suspected Mroz of authoring. An Air Force sergeant told investigators Mroz wouldn’t let the victim speak for herself, and yelled at her in public. The sergeant described the airman as strange, that he “would often be very loud at work, either yelling or singing songs at the top of his lungs,” an Air Force investigative report states.

In 2014, the victim got a brief reprieve when she was deployed to another base for almost five months. Back in Lakenheath, Mroz was admonished by his superiors for sexually harassing three women at work, the plea agreement shows. In October 2014, he was honorably discharged over poor performance evaluations and the harassment allegations, including one that he propositioned female coworkers to have sex with him and his wife when she returned from her deployment.

After his discharge, Mroz became what’s known in military parlance as a “dependent spouse.” At home, his alleged sexual abuse reportedly escalated. In April 2015, prosecutors say Mroz sexually assaulted his wife twice.

A day after the second assault, the young airwoman moved out of their home and told Air Force officials of a history of spousal torture that was “harrowing and palpable,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in the sentencing memo that requested the maximum prison sentence.

In its motion, the defense argued an alternate theory of the case, describing Mroz and his victim as engaged in an “active sex life that included ’swinger parties’” and “consensual sado-masochistic sex, which often includes consensual choking, the use of ’safe’ words and ’safe signals.’”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told SN&R there was no evidence to support those claims.

Mroz’s attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Julie Bornhoeft, the chief development and marketing officer at WEAVE Inc., which serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County, said it’s common for abusers to deny accountability and heap blame onto their victims.

“Regardless of the excuses used by the batterer, the fact remains that the abuser holds the power and control in the relationship and is the one who must be held responsible for violent actions,” Bornhoeft added in an email.

Accountability would eventually come for Mroz, but that hasn’t been the case for most abusers in the military.

The Department of Defense tallied more than 6,172 reports of sexual assault during the 2016 fiscal year, the most recent figures available. But that number tells only a partial tale.

In a DoD survey, 14,900 active duty members said they experienced some form of sexual assault that year, including 4.3 percent of all women in the military.

Most never come forward because they’ve seen what happens to those who do.

The armed forces were in crisis mode over unaddressed sexual misconduct allegations even before the DoD asked the RAND National Defense Research Institute in early 2014 to independently assess the prevalence of gender discrimination and sex crimes in the military. RAND returned with a report that estimated more than 20,000 active duty military personnel experienced sexual assault the previous year, more than half of whom were male.

RAND senior behavioral analyst Andrew R. Morral co-authored that report. Four years ago, he said only a fraction of victims “felt it would be to their benefit” to come forward due to credible fears of retaliation. More than half of the female victims RAND surveyed said they experienced some form of professional or social retaliation after sharing what happened to them, Morral explained.

That includes being improperly discharged from service after reporting sexual assault, according to figures from the DoD.

That’s one of the reasons only one in 10 victims who do report their assaults see the process through to its conclusion, according to Protect Our Defenders, a national advocacy organization that says it wants to end a culture of pervasive misogyny in the armed forces.

There’s still a big gap between those who say they’ve been assaulted and those who officially report the crimes, particularly among male service members, who are more likely to describe being sexually assaulted while on duty by multiple attackers, Morral said. These male victims are also more likely to say the attacks were perpetrated as some sort of hazing ritual meant to humiliate them, rather than for the sexual gratification of their attackers.

While the military has instituted changes that have improved reporting numbers and better tracked instances of retaliation, progress has been slow.

In 2016, Morral said the DoD found that about 40 percent of male and female service members who reported their assaults experienced “perceived professional reprisal,” while half faced ostracism.

“They still look pretty high,” Morral said of the numbers of survivors who face a backlash for telling their stories.

It doesn’t appear that Mroz’s victim faced an organized backlash, but there were bureaucratic hiccups. Because Mroz lacked a passport, he spent two months confined to the same base as his victim.

It was the victim who bought him his plane ticket back to Sacramento, the plea agreement notes.

The day before he was to depart, Mroz got a call to return to his residence on base, according to the defense motion. When he got home that June 2015 evening, Special Agents Adam Sorci and Grace Park of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations were waiting outside with other law enforcement officers. They told Mroz he wasn’t in custody; they just wanted to get his side of the story, the motion states. They talked about the British television show Doctor Who and turned on a video recorder.

“This is your chance to really tell us what happened … before it’s just you on the stand and facts that aren’t lining up,” the motion quotes Agent Park as saying. “I don’t want you to be ripped apart.”

The motion says Mroz sobbed and shook during the course of an interview that last nearly six hours, and proffered a number of “incriminating statements.” By the end of it, the self-proclaimed warlock expressed regret and handed investigators a signed statement that his lawyers wouldn’t be able to make disappear.

But now Mroz will—for 15 years.