Military Justice in the News

In light of my association with the United States Army since 1989, I feel compelled to include in our blog issues and cases involving military justice.  Hat Tip to “Bobby Don” Gifford, who routinely compiles these matters.  I hope you will find this section to be of interest.

Pennsylvania Man Sentenced To Prison For Posing As Decorated Veteran.   The AP (1/21) reports, “A Pennsylvania car dealer is getting two years and nine months in federal prison for faking military honors and cashing more than $200,000 in counterfeit checks.” Dale Farr, “a 34-year-old former Army private, who never saw combat, was accused of telling people he had earned honors for service in Afghanistan. The FBI says he bought medals and misrepresented them as ones he earned.”

Testifying in Uniform Nets Punishment – Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard unit based in Mt. Pleasant will face disciplinary action for wearing their uniforms while testifying in a criminal trial last week for a sergeant accused of ramming a man with his car.  Three National Guard members with the 110th Regiment were called as character witnesses for Sgt. Brandon Kopp, who was convicted of aggravated assault and driving under the influence after a two-day trial.  Kopp and his fellow guard members testified while wearing their military uniforms.  “Wearing a uniform was not permitted. He should not have done that,” National Guard spokesman Kevin Cramsey said of Kopp. “And that goes for any member of the unit who participated at the proceeding.”

Kopp, 27, of Youngwood got into an altercation outside an Irwin bar on Sept. 8, 2006. Jurors found Kopp not guilty of attempted homicide, but he faces up to 20 years in prison on the other charges.  Kopp will be dishonorably discharged as a result of the conviction, Cramsey said.  A July 10 memo from Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright, the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard, issued a reminder that soldiers, no matter their duty status, are prohibited from wearing military attire if they are a subject or a party in a civilian court action.

“We don’t want to have someone wearing the uniform to have influence one way or the other in a court proceeding,” Cramsey said.  Kopp wore his dress uniform during the trial, over objections from Assistant District Attorney Wayne Gongaware, who argued that the attire could sway jurors.  Westmoreland County President Judge John Blahovec said he allowed Kopp to wear the uniform because his military service was an element of the defense. Kopp blamed the assault on post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by a year of service in Iraq.  Blahovec said he was not made aware of any military prohibitions regarding Kopp’s attire.

“I thought he had a legitimate right to wear the uniform. The fact he wore a uniform didn’t impact the verdict at all,” Blahovec said.  Defense attorney Daniel Beisler could not be reached for comment.  For an hour, Kopp told jurors about his year in Iraq, where he worked as a mortar technician and frequently witnessed death.  Kopp, in tearful testimony, said he was deeply affected by his military service when he came back in July 2006.

Three regiment members, all in uniform, testified Kopp was a law-abiding citizen with a peaceful reputation.  Now they will face discipline from their commanding officer.

Maj. Dean Vought, public affairs officer for the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which includes the 110th Regiment, said they likely will receive a reprimand.  “The soldiers were not aware of the policy and will be reprimanded and have to undergo training to inform them of the policy,” Vought said.

Wearing a military uniform in court is prohibited under Pennsylvania law in certain cases. State law says that military members cannot wear their uniforms “for the purpose of obtaining aid or profit or while soliciting contributions or subscriptions.”  That law, a summary offense, was used in 2005 by a state trooper who charged a former Army reservist who came to a preliminary hearing dressed in his uniform.  Levi Brighton Fisher, 21, then a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, came to the burglary hearing dressed in uniform. He was cited, found guilty and fined $300.  Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said Friday that law does not apply to Kopp.  “He doesn’t appear to be violating any state law. He didn’t wear it for aid or profit,” Peck said.

Marine Jailed for Sex With Widow – SAN DIEGO – A U.S. Marine sergeant has pleaded guilty to adultery and received a 90-day sentence for having sex with the widow of a young man he had recruited.  Stephen Kuehler, 30, a recruiter in St. Louis, was court-martialed Tuesday in San Diego, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The base there regional headquarters for recruiters in St. Louis.  Amy Patton testified that Kuehler got in touch with her after her husband, Michael Patton, was killed in Afghanistan last year, less than a year after their marriage. Patton joined the Marines in 2007 immediately after his high school graduation.  “He was very helpful,” she testified. “I considered him kind of a big-brother type.”

The sex occurred at Patton’s house after she had drunk tequila on top of a prescription anti-depressant.  David Ahn, Kuehler’s lawyer, said that his client made a “mistake” while he, like Amy Patton, was grieving over Patton’s death. But Capt. Tyler Hart, the prosecutor, said that he was guilty of an act of betrayal.   “Most of all he betrayed the trust of a fellow Marine,” Hart said


Alibi Heard for Chaplain in Rape Case NORFOLK — A Navy chaplain accused of raping a Sailor and numerous other offenses was back in court Thursday for a new hearing on old charges.  Lt. Shane Dillman was charged last year with rape, adultery and having improper relationships with three enlisted women. After a July preliminary hearing, the investigating officer recommended Dillman be tried on the charges. His general court-martial was scheduled to begin this week.  But last Friday, Navy prosecutors withdrew the charges, then refiled them — attaching a specific date to the rape and two counts of aggravated sexual assault.

That change — from “on or about Sept. 2007” to “6 Oct. 2007” — triggered a new preliminary hearing because a new military rape law took effect Oct. 1, 2007.  It also allowed Dillman to present evidence that he was at home with family and friends the day of the alleged rape.  The woman, a junior enlisted Sailor, testified Thursday that questions Dillman’s lawyer asked her in July spurred her to figure out the exact date of her alleged encounter with the chaplain. The Virginian-Pilot is not publishing the woman’s name because she is an alleged rape victim.

In response to questions Thursday from defense attorney Charles Gittins, the woman testified she was certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the rape occurred Oct. 6, 2007.  Gittins then introduced written statements from two men who said they were house guests of the Dillman family that weekend. One came from another Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Willie S. Williams, who said he was with Dillman the entire time.

Prosecuting attorneys tried to cast doubt on Williams’ statement. In a phone interview, Lt. Michael Marinello asked Williams why cell phone records showed four calls — some longer than seven minutes — between the two chaplains’ phones that day.

“If you were present with him the entire time,” Marinello asked, “why did he call you on your cell phone at 8 o’clock in the morning?”

Williams said the Dillmans’ home in Williamsburg is quite large and sometimes got spotty cell phone reception.

The two chaplains became close in 2004 when both were stationed at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, ministering to Marines wounded in combat in Iraq.  In 2007, Dillman transferred to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which is being overhauled in Newport News. Since being charged, he has been temporarily assigned to administrative duty at Norfolk Naval Station.

At the end of the hearing, Dillman declared that he had never had sex with the woman accusing him of rape.  Gittins told the investigating officer that the rape charge should be dismissed. “An alibi is a complete defense,” Gittins said.

The other charges should be handled administratively, Gittins said. He criticized the Navy for charging Dillman with fraternization — an “unduly familiar relationship” that blurs the line between officers and enlisted personnel — but not charging the women.   “Since when does everybody get a bye?” Gittins said. “The Navy is excusing the conduct of multiple people…. Is that because she’s female? Probably, because that’s the way we do things in the Navy these days.”

Afterward, Gittins said Dillman, who is married, has admitted to an improper sexual relationship with one woman — but noted that at the time, the chaplain was separated from his wife and deployed to Kuwait.   That admission “is a career killer right there,” he said.


Escaped Ft. Bliss Soldier Captured

A Fort Bliss soldier accused of attempted murder who escaped from military custody Dec. 10 has been captured, a U.S. Marshals Service spokesman said Tuesday evening.  Pvt. Deandrez Robertson, 20, was caught without incident about 3:30 p.m. El Paso time in Knoxville, Tenn., said Supervisor Deputy U.S. Marshal Gerry Payan, who heads the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.

“We had information that he was going to be at a bus stop,” Payan said. “We are still investigating as to his final destination.”   Payan said Robertson will receive a court hearing in Knoxville before being returned to Fort Bliss in two or three weeks.  Robertson’s court-martial was set for Friday but will be rescheduled, Fort Bliss officials said.

Robertson also was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, assault with a deadly weapon, violating a lawful order and obstruction of justice. When he returns, Robertson also will face charges related to his escape, Fort Bliss officials said Tuesday evening.  Fort Bliss has released few details about the incident that led to the charges or the escape.  Robertson was transported from the Otero County Detention Facility in Alamogordo under military guard to Fort Bliss, where he was supposed to consult with his lawyer in preparation for the court-martial. He escaped at 11:18 a.m. and soon thereafter military police began searching vehicles as they left the post. Law enforcement officials were notified at about noon.  Fort Bliss employees were first warned about the escape at 1:39 p.m. and the post notified the El Paso media more than 2Ahours later.


GI Faces Court-Martial Over Iraq Deaths – BERLIN – A U.S. Army sergeant will face a court-martial on murder charges for alleged involvement in the killing of four Iraqi prisoners who were found bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a Baghdad canal, the military said Tuesday.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, will be court-martialed on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice stemming from the spring 2007 incident, the military said in a statement.  At a hearing last month, Mayo’s attorney told a military panel there was not enough evidence to bring his client before a court-martial.  But the panel decided to recommend the case be taken to one, the military said. No date has been set for the proceeding.

Mayo is one of seven soldiers implicated in the case, and could receive a life sentence without parole if convicted.  Mayo has been implicated by other soldiers who were on the patrol. All soldiers involved were with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, which is now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade. Two other soldiers, Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., of Lockport, Illinois, and Sgt. John E. Hatley are said to have been directly involved in the shootings.  According to testimony, four Iraqis were taken into custody after a firefight sometime between March 10 and April 16, 2007.

The prisoners were then taken to the U.S. unit’s operating base in Baghdad. Later that night, according to testimony, members of the patrol took the Iraqis to a remote location and killed them in retribution for attacks.  Other members of the patrol have already been sentenced or are awaiting their trials.

Spc. Steven Ribordy, 25, of Salina, Kansas, and Spc. Belmor Ramos, 23, of Clearfield, Utah, have pleaded guilty in the case and have been sentenced to prison.

Court-martials on charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder are planned at an unspecified date for two other soldiers, Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, 27, of Bakersfield, California, and Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, of Providence, Rhode Island.  The hometowns of Mayo and Hatley were not released.  No date has been set for Leahy and Hatley’s separate courts-martial on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice stemming from the incident.  Leahy and Hatley face additional charges of murder for a separate incident in January 2007. The Army has not provided details of that incident.

Airman Faces Seven Counts of Rape – An Air Force Academy Airman will be court-martialed Monday on charges that he raped two women during a string of sexual assaults and other crimes at the base last year.

Airman 1st Class Derick R. Thompson is charged with seven counts of rape and two of sodomy in addition to charges that he broke alcohol regulations and disobeyed orders, according to court papers released by the academy Friday. If convicted on all charges, Thompson, who joined the Air Force in 2006, faces a maximum of 57 years in prison, loss of all pay and a dishonorable discharge, the academy said.

Court papers charge Thompson, a logistics technician with the academy’s 10th Medical Support Squadron, committed a string of sexual assaults on two female Airmen and other crimes between Dec. 12, 2007, and Jan. 20, 2008.

The crimes started with an act of sodomy on Dec. 12, according to charging papers. Prosecutors charge that on Dec. 21, Thompson gave alcohol to underage Airmen, then, on Dec. 22, committed sexual assault by fondling an Airman and committed rape by having sex with an Airman without her consent.

Prosecutors say two days later, Thompson assaulted a woman by unlawfully touching her face “with his mouth.”

On Jan. 3, prosecutors charge Thompson again provided alcohol to minors and had sex with a woman who was too drunk to consent.  Between Jan. 4 and Jan. 9, prosecutors say Thompson fondled a woman, and had sex with a woman without her consent.  Then on Jan. 20, prosecutors say Thompson engaged “in an act of sodomy” while others were in the room to watch.

Sodomy as defined by military courts can include oral or anal sex.  Other charges include violating orders by contacting a potential witness in the case, and using a government vehicle to pick up alcohol. Thompson’s trial on Monday will begin with the selection of a panel of officers to hear the case.

Unlike a civilian jury, a court-martial panel is made up exclusively of military members. While civilian juries must be unanimous in guilty verdicts, court-martial panels can convict on a two-thirds vote.

Sailor Gets 15 Years for Striking Baby –  PORTSMOUTH — A 19-year-old man was ordered Wednesday to serve 15 years in prison on two counts of malicious wounding and one count of child cruelty related to the abuse of his girlfriend’s 8-month-old daughter.  The prosecutor had asked for a maximum sentence of 45 years, arguing that what Matthew A. Simon, a Navy man, did to the baby last May amounted to torture.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Kolp read portions of Simon’s statement to police in which he admitted to striking the baby in the face three times and dunking her in bath water to the point he had to resuscitate her.

In the third incident, he dangled the child in bath water he knew was scalding, according to his statement. He told the detective “it gave me something to laugh about,” according to the statement.  Simon said he “wanted to see what it would do,” Kolp read from the statement. “I was experimenting.”

He spoke of getting the urge to hit the child and how it had helped his stress. The next day, he took it a little further, he told detectives.  The burns were discovered after he took the baby to her mother’s workplace later that day at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.  The prosecutor asked the judge to look beyond the defendant, who might look boyish and sympathetic.  “He is a sadist,” Kolp said.

Simon’s attorney, Rebecca Robinson, asked the judge to consider that he had no prior record and that he was dealing with depression and stress. She also argued that Simon had taken responsibility for his actions and had shown remorse.

Circuit Judge James C. Hawks sentenced Simon to a total of 40 years, with 25 years suspended.  Hawks said Simon is to have no unsupervised contact with children younger than 18 upon his release. He also ordered him to serve 10 years on supervised probation upon his release and another 15 years on unsupervised probation. “That’s not enough for what he did,” the baby’s mother, Jessica Malone, said after the hearing.

Malone testified about the impact on the child and herself. She said she is still fighting to regain custody of the child. She said she lives every day knowing her daughter was abused and that she was not there to protect her.

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