A retired Navy admiral who accused the service’s top lawyers of improperly intervening in a SEAL’s sexual assault case made his charge to a judge this week at a special hearing ordered by the military’s highest court.
Retired Rear Adm. Patrick J. Lorge testified in a Washington Navy Yard courtroom that a lawyer admiral — Vice Adm. James Crawford, now the judge advocate general of the Navy — urged him not to overturn the conviction of Senior Chief Petty Officer Keith E. Barry.
At the time, Mr. Lorge served as convening authority overseeing Barry’s non-jury court-martial in San Diego in 2014.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces had upheld Barry’s conviction, but then ordered a new investigation once Mr. Lorge signed a sworn affidavit in May.
The appeals court strictly prohibited any Navy or Marine Corps judge from overseeing the special investigation. The Pentagon named Air Force Col. Vance H. Spath as the hearing judge. He must file a report by Nov. 1. The appeals court then will decide whether the Navy admirals committed unlawful command influence.
Barry, a decorated SEAL who has served his three-year prison sentence, wants his conviction erased.
Mr. Lorge testified that Adm. Crawford told him that overriding the military judge’s guilty verdict would harm the Navy politically. On the stand, Adm. Crawford acknowledged he spoke with Mr. Lorge but denied he did anything improper.
This account from two days of testimony was provided in a press release from David P. Sheldon, Barry’s civilian defense attorney.
Mr. Lorge said he planned to overturn the verdict because he believed Barry was innocent of a charge of forcing a sexual act on his girlfriend. She testified at trial that the two engaged in intense sexual relations for several weeks but she did not consent to that act.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat who has urged the armed forces to crack down on sexual abuse, had made inquiries with the Navy top brass about the Barry case, according to Mr. Sheldon.
“While Senior Chief Barry may obtain justice as a result of the hearing, until Senator Gillibrand and others stop meddling in military justice cases, justice will be thwarted,” Mr. Sheldon said. “The bottom line here is that the top echelons of the Navy JAGC failed to do the right thing and that cost a man three years of his life.”
In August, the Navy issued a statement to The Washington Times: “The Barry case has been forwarded to a new convening authority, senior to the original convening authority, and the fact-finding process is underway. The Navy remains, as always, dedicated to pursuing justice in a fair and impartial system. To preserve the integrity of that process, Navy will not comment further on the case.”