In a series of posts (here, here, and here) in May and June we discussed the case of Senior Chief Barry, U.S. Navy, who was convicted of one specification of sexual assault in violation of Article 120, and sentenced to confinement for three years and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority – Rear Admiral Patrick J. Lorge (now retired) – approved the findings and sentence, the NMCCA affirmed in an opinion available here, and CAAF summarily affirmed on April 27, 2017. But after CAAF acted, the Admiral signed an affidavit alleging that he really wanted to disapprove the finding of guilty but the then-Judge Advocate General of the Navy and her deputy (the current JAG) persuaded him not to do so because it would be bad public relations for the Navy and hurt Lorge’s career.
That allegation prompted CAAF to reverse its summary affirmation and grant review of “whether senior civilian and military leaders exerted unlawful command influence on the convening authority.” CAAF also ordered post-trial fact-finding.
That fact-finding is underway. According to this report published by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Vice Admiral Crawford (the current JAG) gave a deposition this week and, according to Barry’s civilian defense counsel, “Crawford has confirmed that he discussed the case with Lorge. Crawford also disclosed the existence of documents and messages exchanged at the highest levels of the Navy about Barry.”
But the report also raises a new allegation: that Vice Adm. Crawford pushed for a prosecution in a different case involving the 2016 drowning death of a special operations candidate, Seaman James Derek Lovelace. Barry was also a member of the special operations community, but was not (best I can tell) involved in any way in the death of Lovelace.
The Union-Tribute reports that:
Word that the Union-Tribune had received records in both the Barry and Lovelace cases triggered numerous, sometimes frantic, calls from top Navy officials nationwide on Monday and Tuesday, with flag officers or their representatives inquiring into Crawford’s involvement in both matters.
It’s certainly not unusual for a JAG or other senior military attorneys to get involved in serious cases, to form opinions about whether prosecution is warranted, and to take action consistent with their opinions. Article 34, in fact, requires them to do precisely that. The emerging claim from the Barry and Lovelace cases, however, seems to be that Vice Adm. Crawford has – and acts on – a pro-prosecution bias.
Paradoxically, at the end of the Union-Tribune article that claim is offered as a justification to give lawyers more power in the military justice system:
Eugene R. Fidell, the military law instructor at Yale Law School, said both cases possibly linked to Crawford were very unusual but pointed out the need for broader reforms to the way the armed forces dispense justice.
“These cases illustrate that Congress needs to get serious about the military justice system and turn it from an 18th century system into one fit for the 21st century,” said Fidell. “Military decisions on who gets prosecuted, and for what, are based on a system that was used by King George III. Until that changes, you’ll continue to see controversies like these.”
Fidell has long advocated for lawmakers to strip commanders of the power to decide who is prosecuted, to pick jurors and to vacate verdicts and sentences, vesting charging authority instead with senior attorneys independent of the chain of command and jury selection with an outside and impartial commissioner.