- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A member of the military jury that recently convicted a Naval Academy midshipman of sexual assault said yesterday “jury irregularity” occurred during deliberations, but a judge ruled his concerns didn’t warrant overturning the verdict.

The juror, Marine Maj. Robb P. Mansfield, provided few details about the deliberations that prompted him to come forward during a hearing at the Washington Navy Yard. However, he said he was concerned about the way the panel found Midshipman Kenny Ray Morrison guilty and sentenced him to two years in the Navy brig.

“I felt there was a certain lack of impartiality,” he said on the witness stand.

But under carefully worded questioning from the military judge, Maj. Mansfield, the second lowest-ranking member of the seven-officer jury, said he wasn’t pressured by others to vote a particular way or that outside influence swayed the verdict.

Marine judge Col. Steven Day said Maj. Mansfield presumably thought “someone more senior was in his opinion not impartial” but did not probe further to avoid breaking the confidentiality of the jury’s deliberations. He ruled the statements did not satisfy any part of a legal test that could allow him to set aside the jury’s decision.

Morrison was convicted in April of sexually assaulting a female midshipman at a D.C. hotel last year. His attorneys contend he was court-martialed in part because of political pressure faced by Academy officials to reduce sexual assault on campus. They plan to appeal the verdict.

Maj. Mansfield was one of a pool of about 30 officers from the Academy who were sent to the Navy Yard for jury selection. During questioning before the panel was picked, Maj. Mansfield said he thought Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt wanted to make an example of Morrison, but he was still seated on the jury.

Morrison’s attorneys also complained that the jury pool was stacked with senior officers to win a conviction more easily. During the sexual assault trial last summer of former Navy quarterback Lamar Owens, another midshipman, a jury of relatively low-ranking officers cleared him of rape.

On April 12, two days after the sentencing of Morrison, who is also a member of the football team, Maj. Mansfield contacted a legal officer at the Academy, according to an e-mail the legal officer wrote that was attached to court filings. In a subsequent conversation, Maj. Mansfield said the case was weighing on his conscience because certain members did not follow the judge’s instructions during deliberations.

Maj. Mansfield used phrases such as “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “jury tampering,” according to the e-mail. But on the stand yesterday, he said the use of the word “tampering” was not accurate, describing it instead as “irregularity.”

In response to questions from Col. Day, Maj. Mansfield said he didn’t think Adm. Rempt influenced the verdict or that any other outside pressures affected their deliberations. And he said he didn’t feel pressured by senior officers to vote in a particular way. Col. Day concluded that wasn’t enough to declare a mistrial.

Maj. Mansfield did not return a call seeking comment.

The jury’s president, Navy Capt. Daniel King, said the jury “conducted ourselves very professionally, and beyond that I have no comment.”

Morrison’s family had hoped the relatively rare development of a juror stepping forward would be grounds for overturning the verdict. Morrison, who is serving his prison sentence in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., was brought to the District for the hearing.

“Justice will come out eventually,” he said after the hearing.

In a courtroom outburst, Ken Morrison, Morrison’s father, sharply criticized the limitations on what Maj. Mansfield could say.

“If this judge won’t allow that major to speak … how do you get anything fair in the case?” he asked.

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