Legal twist reconnects 2 sailors: attacker and victim
Sailors depart a messing and berthing barge in San Diego on Nov. 4, 2010. Inside such a barge at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on March 7, 2007, Seaman Richard Mott slashed the neck of Seaman Recruit Jose Garcia as Garcia sat in the ship's galley eating breakfast.
The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot
It was a bizarre and horrific scene: a sailor going berserk in the galley of a Navy barge at a local shipyard and slashing the throat of a shipmate.
The delusional violence in March 2007 landed one man in prison and the other in an operating room. It also trapped the two sailors in a prism of legal turns that continue to this day.
After two trials and more than five years in prison, the attacker, Seaman Richard Mott, has been on duty at Norfolk Naval Station since September. His conviction for attempted murder was set aside this summer, after he had been paroled.
Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Mott is monitored daily to ensure he takes his medications. His supervisors at the naval station say his illness is under control.
The victim, Jose Garcia, sits at home in Kansas, embittered by constant pain and post-traumatic stress disorder that has been, at times, debilitating. He blames the Navy for forcing him to relive his nightmare and leaving him to fall through the cracks when he needed help most.
"I feel like they care more about what's happening to the other guy," Garcia says. "No one has checked on me at all. The only time I've ever gotten a call is if they need something from me."
Neither man was on active duty in July, when the appeals court handed down its ruling, but the decision has brought attacker and victim back in the Navy's reach for one final legal and financial twist.
Garcia was two days into his first Navy assignment with the cruiser Cape St. George on March 8, 2007, when he sat down to eat breakfast in the galley of a berthing barge at a local shipyard.
The 18-year-old seaman recruit had enlisted right out of high school in Emporia, Kan., after convincing his mother that he'd be safe in the Navy and could earn money for college.
Mott lunged at him, brandishing a knife and shouting something about rape. He stabbed Garcia repeatedly - first in the throat, then the chest and then the abdomen, according to details that came out in court.
Garcia thought he was dying. He pulled a piece of omelet out of his mouth before he noticed the gaping hole in his neck, blood pouring from him, he later recalled.
Both men were taken away. Garcia was rushed into surgery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and later transferred to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.
Mott was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and spent months in a prison psychiatric ward. He told investigators that he'd been kidnapped by military Special Forces when he was 13. He believed Garcia was part of a Guatemalan gang that he said had raped him years earlier.
In November 2008, a military judge rejected Mott's plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, finding him guilty of attempted murder.
By then, Garcia had been medically retired from the Navy. He was sitting in the courtroom when the judge sentenced Mott to 12 years in prison.
Mott turned around to his victim and, through tears, told Garcia he was sorry.
Later, Garcia met with Mott's parents. He told them he forgave their son, saying he didn't want it to haunt Mott for the rest of his life.
Garcia went home to Kansas and tried to heal. He met a girl, enrolled in school using his veterans benefits and got engaged.
One hundred and twenty miles away in the same state, Mott began serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth.
Slightly more than a year after the trial, a military appeals court overturned Mott's conviction, citing the omission of testimony that could have helped his defense.
For most of 2010, Mott was back at Norfolk Naval Station awaiting a second trial.
This time, a jury convicted him - again rejecting his defense that he was insane when he stabbed Garcia. He was sentenced to a maximum of nine years, including time served.
Mott went back to Leavenworth. Garcia, who had returned to Norfolk to testify at the trial, went home again. His wedding was the following week, and he had just started college.
He thought he was OK. But retelling the story on the witness stand a second time weighed on him more than he realized.
"I thought I would be able to handle it," he says. "I pushed it to the back of my mind until after the wedding, after the honeymoon."
One day, Garcia was walking to class and noticed a guy "staring me down like he wanted to hurt me."
"I got scared," says Garcia, who remains partially paralyzed on one side of his face. "I basically just locked myself in my apartment for the next few months."
Garcia had retreated behind his own walls, alone with his festering physical and emotional wounds.
Unsure how to find help, Garcia tried for months simply to power through. He went to a Veterans Affairs hospital, which managed his pain with high doses of ibuprofen that he says didn't help.
He tried to exercise, but without a physical therapist, his scar tissue grew, creating unbearable pain in his abdomen.
He grew depressed and frustrated. He distrusted the VA hospital but felt he had no options.
"After trying to get help while in the military and not getting much help at all, and then having to go to the VA and not getting help at all, I just kind of gave up," Garcia says. "The thing that really sucks... is looking for help in the first place and not getting it."
Last year, Garcia learned that he was eligible for military health insurance, Tricare. He went to a private doctor, who sent him for scans of his abdomen that showed a large, possibly cancerous mass, he says. In surgery, doctors found scar tissue but no cancer.
After his surgery, Garcia was unable to work. The pain got so bad, he says, that he started having blackouts and flashbacks. He struggled to make the rent - much less the co-pays on his medical bills.
He started counseling but couldn't sustain the ongoing co-pays. It was the same for physical therapy, so he put both on hold.
He suffered quietly, not wanting to burden his wife, who works full time while going to school.
"I tried to put on this facade that I am OK for her, for my family, so they don't worry about me," he says.
Mott got out of prison on parole in October 2012. While he was technically still in the Navy until his final appeal went through, he was no longer on active duty. He returned home to Texas, the Navy said.
Then, in July, the case took one final turn. For a second time - after Mott already had been released - an appeals court set aside the jury's guilty verdict and authorized a rehearing.
There's no dispute that Mott, as a direct result of his mental illness, stabbed Garcia and nearly took his life. But the court found that Mott's statement to investigators immediately after the stabbing should not have been admissible and might have damaged his insanity case.
The Navy brought Mott back to Norfolk in September; he was assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit, said Beth Baker, spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic Region, which oversees the unit.
She said Mott has been monitored - someone makes sure he takes his pills daily - and he's working an administrative job on the base. He has been mild-mannered and "fully compliant" with everything he's been asked to do, she said, and he's free to move about on and off the base.
Mott declined a request to be interviewed.
When Garcia got the call about the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces setting aside the verdict, he told his lawyer he did not want to testify again and explained what he'd been through. His lawyer told him the Navy had no interest in trying Mott a third time.
That means the Navy now owes Mott tens of thousands of dollars in back pay for the time he was in prison.
This week, the Navy and Mott reached an agreement. He will receive the back pay and will not face a retrial. In exchange, Mott will sign over 40 percent of the money to Garcia, keeping 60 percent to pay for his own medical needs.
Baker said Mott also agreed to sign a document acknowledging his actions on March 8, 2007. His case is being disposed of administratively. Although he no longer will be a convicted felon, he has not been exonerated, and the overturned conviction will remain on his record, she said. The Navy has expedited Mott's paperwork to process him out of the service. He is scheduled to fly home from Norfolk today - a civilian and a free man.
Garcia expects to receive about $23,000. It's not much - but this final restitution from Mott might give him the means to rebuild his life, too. He plans to use the money to cover the expenses of resuming counseling and physical therapy and any other medical care as a result of his injuries.
"Hopefully, this will give me enough to get back on my feet," he says. "I want to get better. I don't want to have to live in pain my whole life - or at least not this much pain."
Garcia has come to accept that in a single, visceral act of violence, Mott forever changed his life.
"I've come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be able to ever get away from this," Garcia says. "It's always going to be with me."