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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A sailor portrayed by prosecutors as the mastermind behind a plot to dump ammunition in Navy base waters was found not guilty during a special court-martial here Thursday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Lacarlos Knighten was acquitted of conspiracy and wrongful disposal of military property charges, which carried a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a dishonorable discharge, according to the court.

Prosecutors argued that just two weeks after transferring to Sasebo, Knighten directed junior sailors to hide and illegally dispose of thousands of rounds of excess shooting-range ammunition that piled up due to fabricated records. They claimed he then urged three junior sailors to lie to investigators to cover it up.

A six-member jury deliberated for several hours before coming to the not-guilty verdict.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Hydron, the sailor who admitted to dumping the ammunition and falsifying ammo records during eight months of duty in Sasebo, faced a closed-door administrative hearing for the incident and testified against Knighten under legal immunity.

The charges dated to October, when plastic bags, 3,000 shotgun shells and 335 rounds of M-16 rifle ammunition were found along the shore in three areas of Sasebo Naval Base.

The discovery triggered some local outcry and caused the base to tighten monitoring of ammunition used at shooting ranges.

That month, Knighten had transferred to Sasebo to work as a gunner’s mate.

Hydron, a master at arms, was charged with keeping records in an understaffed armory and resorted to cooking the books and hiding rounds to cover excess ammo that was supposed to be used during range practice, the defense said.

There was a "complete ineptness of issuing and accounting for ammunition," said Phillip Stackhouse, Knighten’s civilian defense attorney from North Carolina.

Knighten, Hydron and two junior sailors spent two days at the base firing range trying to shoot off the excess ammo that accumulated from Hydron’s record keeping. They broke two shotguns in the attempt, according to both the prosecution and defense.

Some witnesses testified that Knighten implied that the group should dispose of the ammo in some other way and that the group shoveled shells and bullets into plastic bags.

According to the prosecution, the ammo was hidden in a mobile range trailer on the base. Hydron testified that he later took the bags late at night to the Maebata ordnance facility, Akasaki pier and Hario-shima — all areas on the installation — and dumped them.

Prosecutors said Knighten called Hydron repeatedly before the disposal, urging him to do it, and that he told the group to tell investigators that all the ammunition had been expended at the shooting range.

Hydron gave a full confession to base investigators, along with two other junior sailors.

Knighten "just sat back and let a naive and remorseful sailor take all the blame," Navy prosecutor Lt. Shane Johnson said.

But the defense said there was no clear proof that Knighten knew about the disposal of the ammunition.

The surveillance video evidence did not show him hiding the ammunition, and there were no phone records that could definitively show Knighten talked to the junior sailor.

"[Knighten] has no dog in the fight for falsifying [ammo] expenditure records," Stackhouse said.

"Is it possible that the ammunition [Hydron] dumped … was other ammunition he had hidden elsewhere on the base?"

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