Ad­mi­rals probed in Navy SEAL’s sex­ual as­sault con­vic­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary court last week sided with a dec­o­rated Navy SEAL and or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether top Navy ad­mi­ral lawyers at the Pen­tagon il­le­gally in­ter­fered in his case to en­sure a con­vic­tion on a sex­ual as­sault charge.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Armed Forces granted a pe­ti­tion for an independent probe from de­fense at­tor­neys for Se­nior Chief Petty Of­fi­cer Keith E. Barry, who was con­victed of sex­ual as­sault in 2014 and sen­tenced to a dis­hon­or­able dis­charge and three years in prison.

Last month, the for­mer ad­mi­ral who over­saw Barry’s case swore in an af­fi­davit that two three-star ad­mi­rals pres­sured him to up­hold the con­vic­tion when he was about to overturn the trial judge’s rul­ing.

“In or­der to re­solve this al­le­ga­tion of un­law­ful com­mand in­flu­ence, we con­clude that fur­ther fact-find­ing must be con­ducted,” the mil­i­tary ap­peals court said Mon­day. “The pe­ti­tion for re­con­sid­er­a­tion is granted.”

What’s more, the court ruled that the fact-find­ing hear­ing will be presided by a “mil­i­tary judge from an armed force other than the United States Navy or the United States Marine Corps.” The pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer will re­turn the fact-find­ing record di­rectly to the court, not to the Navy chain of com­mand, no later than Nov. 1.

“This mil­i­tary judge shall in­quire fully and make find­ings of fact and conclusions of law related to the al­leged un­law­ful com­mand in­flu­ence mat­ter un­der­ly­ing the granted is­sue,” the court said.

“A war hero has been wrongly con­victed be­cause of the Navy’s top lawyer’s un­law­ful ac­tions,” said David Shel­ton, Barry’s civil­ian de­fense at­tor­ney. “The time is now for jus­tice.”

The court de­nied the de­fense’s re­quest for a spe­cial mas­ter to in­ves­ti­gate. Barry’s ac­cuser de­scribed en­coun­ters over two months of “crazy sex” that ended in an as­sault. Barry con­tends the wo­man con­sented.

His at­tor­neys this month pre­sented the sworn af­fi­davit from a sub­or­di­nate of now-re­tired Rear Adm. Pa­trick J. Lorge, who had held deep reser­va­tions and was planning to overturn Barry’s con­vic­tion in 2015. Alarmed about Congress’ in­ter­est in mil­i­tary sex­ual as­sault cases, his le­gal ad­vis­ers no­ti­fied the Navy high com­mand.

What hap­pened next formed the ba­sis for Barry’s two at­tor­neys — Mr. Shel­ton and a Navy judge ad­vo­cate — to ac­cuse two ad­mi­rals of un­law­ful com­mand in­flu­ence.

First, the Navy’s top at­tor­ney (or judge ad­vo­cate gen­eral), then-Vice Adm. Nanette M. DeRenzi, com­mu­ni­cated with Mr. Lorge, who was serv­ing as con­ven­ing author­ity.

“She con­veyed the im­por­tance that the con­ven­ing au­thor­i­ties held and how ten­u­ous the abil­ity of an op­er­a­tional com­man­der to act as a cov­er­ing author­ity had be­come, es­pe­cially in find­ings or sen­tences in sex­ual as­sault cases due to the in­tense pres­sure on the mil­i­tary at the time,” Mr. Lorge re­called in a May 5 sworn af­fi­davit. “She men­tioned that ev­ery three or four months mil­i­tary com­man­ders were mak­ing court­mar­tial de­ci­sions that got ques­tioned by Congress and other po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent. This con­ver­sa­tion re­in­forced my per­cep­tion of the po­lit­i­cal pres­sures [they] faced at the time.”

Next, Vice Adm. James W. Craw­ford III, then-Adm. DeRenzi’s deputy and now her successor, told Mr. Lorge by tele­phone that over­turn­ing the con­vic­tion would kill Mr. Lorge’s ca­reer.

It is that phone call for which de­fense at­tor­neys said they have new cor­rob­o­ra­tion in a June 5 sworn state­ment from Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Dowl­ing. He was deputy staff judge ad­vo­cate for Mr. Lorge when he com­manded Navy Re­gion South­west and was con­sid­er­ing the Barry case.

Cmdr. Dowl­ing quoted then-Adm. Lorge as telling him, “Jim told me don’t put a tar­get on my back. He said I have smart lawyers; let them fig­ure it out.”

Cmdr. Dowl­ing asked who “Jim” was, and Mr. Lorge replied, “Jim Craw­ford.”

To Barry’s at­tor­neys, this was independent proof that Adm. Craw­ford med­dled in a crim­i­nal case, which is out­lawed by the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice.

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