Defense counsel often tell an accused that he has one job: Keep your mouth shut. Marine Major Mark Thompson’s discussions with Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox illustrate why.
Thompson was an instructor at the Naval Academy in 2011 when he was accused of numerous offenses involving female midshipmen (students), including sexual assault and fraternization (an unduly familiar relationship). In 2013 a general court-martial acquitted Thompson of sexual assault but convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer, indecent conduct, and fraternization, and sentenced him to confinement for two months and a $60,000 fine. The court-martial did not, however, sentence Thompson to be dismissed from the service and so in 2014 the Marine Corps convened a Board of Inquiry to determine if he should be separated or retained. But that Board, in an unusual move, found that Thompson committed no misconduct despite the court-martial conviction.
At that point Thompson (who also had enlisted service) was nearing the 20-year mark. He could have coasted to military retirement while his case was pending appellate review by the Judge Advocate General of the Navy under Article 69(a). But Thompson approached the Washington Post seeking exoneration. The result was something different.
The Post unearthed incriminating text messages between Thompson and former-Ensign Sarah Stadler who was one of the female Naval Academy students involved in the court-martial. In a feature article published on March 10, 2016, John Woodrow Cox wrote:
On a frigid January morning, Thompson sat across from me at a corner table in a Washington coffee shop. He stared down. In his hands were copies of the texts from Stadler’s phone that I’d just given to him.
Ten, then 20, then 30 seconds passed. He reached the final page, then flipped back. His eyes remained trained on the words. His jaw clenched.
Thompson knew I was recording our conversation. For nearly two minutes, he said nothing.
Then Thompson exhaled.
“She, she came by and,” he hesitated, “dropped off two glasses,” another pause, “that had her name etched in them.”
She’d gotten the glasses at graduation, he explained, and wanted him to have them.
Why, I asked, hadn’t he previously admitted they saw each other that night? Why had he lied about it to authorities?
“I simply had to, when they were coming after me for 41 years,” Thompson said, “I can’t begin to say, you know, how terrifying that is.”
The military’s reaction was swift. A new investigation was opened, and within two months Thompson faced new charges of violating Article 107 (making a false official statement) and Article 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman). An article 32 preliminary hearing was held on Friday, May 13, 2016, but Thompson skipped it. The case was then referred to a general court-martial in June.
This is all pretty bizarre, but the Thompson case gets even stranger.
According to this Washington Post report, Marine Major Michael Pretus – an old friend of Thompson – testified on Thompson’s behalf at the 2013 court-martial. He was then identified by Stadler as having participated in a sexual threesome with her and Thompson back in 2011. Pretus was investigated but:
The investigation, according to military records, ended after Pretus refused to cooperate. One year later, in 2014, the Marine Corps assigned him to teach history to midshipmen in Annapolis, where he has also served as a mentor to students who aspire to become Marines.
Officials at the Naval Academy, the Marine Corps, the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Pretus’s former command in New Orleans have been unable to explain how he taught at the academy for two years after being accused of having sex with a student.
Pretus is now cooperating with military prosecutors as part of an immunity deal. The Naval Academy, for its part, will conduct additional screening of officers selected for instructor positions.
Thompson’s fate remains to be seen.