Navy SEAL wrongly convicted of sex crimes due to political correctness, retired admiral attests
By CARL PRINE | The San Diego-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 19, 2017
A San Diego-based Navy SEAL’s sex-crimes conviction was compromised by high-level politics and an admiral’s concerns about his career being torpedoed if he didn’t follow political correctness, according to an unusual flurry of legal appeals filed in Washington, D.C.
In a signed affidavit filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on May 5, retired Rear Adm. Patrick J. Lorge said worries about reprisals from President Barack Obama and members of Congress made him second-guess his inclination to scrap the 2015 conviction of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith E. Barry. As commander of the San Diego-based Navy Region Southwest at the time, Lorge had the authority to affirm or overturn the military judge’s verdict against Barry.
In a rare move, Lorge said he wrongly let the undue political and military influences wrongly color his decision-making. He asked the appellate judges to “forgive my failure in leadership and right the wrong that I committed in his case” and “allow a man to remain innocent.”
The military judge who convicted Barry of sexual assault sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge on Feb. 27, 2015. When Barry’s case was forwarded to Lorge, he initially balked at certifying the ruling.
Under military law, admirals and generals who convene court-martial proceedings have the power to alter the verdict of a judge or jury during the post-trial clemency phase. In his affidavit, Lorge said he had “serious misgivings about the evidence” against Barry because it failed to support the “alleged victim’s account of events.”
Lorge said that he felt pressured by his staff attorneys, Cmdr. Dominic Jones and Lt. Cmdr. Jon Dowling, to rubber-stamp the decision, but that he also fretted “about the impact to the Navy if I were to disapprove the findings.”
“At the time, the political climate regarding sexual assault in the military was such that a decision to disapprove findings, regardless of merit, would bring hate and discontent on the Navy from the president, as well as senators including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand,” Lorge added.
Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has crusaded against a military that many critics believe has too long overlooked an epidemic of rape and sexual harassment of women within the armed forces.
Although Vice Adm. Nanette DeRenzi — then the judge advocate general of the Navy — never urged Lorge to approve the ruling against Barry, she expressed concerns to him about the Navy’s reputation, with military commanders routinely “questioned by Congress and other political military and leaders including the president” about overturning sex-crime convictions, according to Lorge’s affidavit.
Lorge also said Vice Adm. James Crawford III, the current judge advocate general of the Navy, told him that if “you disapprove the findings, it will ruin your career,” according to court documents in Barry’s case.
Lorge retired from the Navy on Sept. 1, 2015. When The San Diego Union-Tribune telephoned his listed number on Friday, the man who answered immediately hung up.
Citing the ongoing litigation, Navy officials also declined comment.
Confronted with Lorge’s signed confession alleging unlawful command influence, the Navy has sought to remand Barry’s case to a different admiral on active duty for a new legal decision.
Barry’s civilian defense attorney, David Sheldon, told the Union-Tribune that admirals are “attempting to sweep” the actions of senior officials “under the rug.”
Sheldon said although no court can return the years Barry spent behind bars, he called on the appellate judges to dismiss Barry’s case, restore his rank and give him back pay — actions that are “a step toward justice and will help restore confidence in the military justice system.”
No longer behind bars, Barry now resides in San Diego, according to Sheldon.
Retired Col. Morris “Mo” Davis said he’s never seen an admission quite like Lorge’s during his more than three decades as a lawyer.
“It’s extraordinary,” said Davis, former director of the U.S. Air Force judiciary and once the chief prosecutor of terrorism suspects at the Navy’s Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba. “I’ve seen in a handful of cases a convening authority admit to making a administrative mistake, like forgetting to file some paperwork, but I’ve never seen an admission like this from an officer who admits he was derelict in performing his duties.”
Davis said it was “highly unlikely” that Lorge would be returned to active duty to face criminal charges of his own for his apparently false decision against Barry.
The details in Barry’s case are salacious, with his conviction pivoting on whether he secured consent from the alleged victim — identified only by her initials in court documents — for sado-masochistic sexual activities in 2013.
Court filings show that Barry considered their month-long relationship straddling late 2012 and early 2013 to be merely sexual, but she believed their four encounters were leading to love, describing one of the moments to a Navy criminal investigator as “magical” and “just awesome.”
On their final date, he tied her up to a bed and blindfolded her with a red tie, rubbed her with a loofah, spanked her with a bungee cord and dripped hot wax on her. Although she said she did not like anal sex, he allegedly penetrated her and both parties disputed whether it was a consensual act.
She later took to the social media site Facebook to allege he sexually assaulted her before getting a gynecological exam and seeking the aid of a therapist.
As a member of Seal Team 8, Barry had deployed nine times. In the battle for Fallujah in Iraq, he conducted more than 150 combat missions, according to the testimony of fellow sailors. He was twice awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor.
He also suffers from a brain injury after being exposed to repetitive improvised explosive devices, fragmentary grenades and other explosions.
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