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Sailor Found Not Guilty of Setting Fire on USS Bonhomme Richard

Sailor Found Not Guilty of Setting Fire on USS Bonhomme Richard

Defense witnesses disclose that another suspect in the fire searched the internet about fire moments before smoke was detected on board.

In July of 2020, a 1,100-degree fire blazed aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard.

In a post about my concerns about American military readiness and priorities, I noted that the ship was decommissioned in April 2021, and the investigation was winding down.

There has been another development in the case, as the sailor charged by the U.S. Navy in the incident has been found not guilty of setting the fire.

Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays was acquitted of charges of arson and the willful hazarding of a ship, Commander Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the U.S. 3rd Fleet, said in a statement.

The decision followed a two-week court-martial in which Navy prosecutors argued that Mays, who was 19 at the time of the blaze, started the fire due to disgruntlement with his work. Defense lawyers said lithium-ion batteries or a spark from a short on a forklift could have been to blame.

“The Navy is committed to upholding the principles of due process and a fair trial,” Robertson said.

Had Mays been found guilty, he could have faced life in prison.

Navy prosecutors portrayed Seaman Mays as a disgruntled serviceman who had hoped to become a Navy SEAL but dropped out and was reassigned to other duties.

The defense centered on the lack of evidence for that scenario.

Navy defense lawyers countered that the fire was a result of carelessness and complacency on the part of Navy commanders, and that there was no evidence that the fire was arson or that Seaman Mays had lit it.

Going into the trial, it was clear the prosecution faced challenges. At a preliminary hearing in December, a Navy judge recommended against taking the case forward, saying the lack of evidence made a conviction unlikely. Even so, the commander with convening authority over the case, Vice Adm. Stephen T. Koehler, decided to proceed.

Another factor that helped the defense was the disclosure from witnesses called by the defense team that centered on new information about another suspect (designated EM) that the Navy was investigating but was forced to stop after the suspect was separated from service.

It was reported that the sailor was seen sprinting from the ship’s Lower Vehicle Deck and had photos of fires, google searches of fires, and handwriting that matched, “I set the ship on fire.”

When Kamat and other NCIS investigators asked the sailor about the internet search, EM said he was doing research for a novel that he was writing.

Kamat later confirmed that she read excerpts of EM’s novel. The book was about fire-breathing dragons. The beginning of the novel was set on a burnt down warship.

Kamat also testified that during a search of EM’s phone, investigators found a diagram on the phone that he drew a year prior depicting three phases of a fire.

Kamat testified that while EM was a suspect, their investigation led them to determine that he was no longer a person of interest.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys argued that the decision was made not because of their investigation but because Sailor EM was discharged from the Navy and that it no longer had jurisdiction to question him.

There was also a separate command investigation of Bonhomme Richard officers, crew, and ship condition. The findings indicate that the conditions were ripe for a devastating blaze.

The command investigation, led by a three-star admiral, sent a team of investigators on a prodigious and methodical examination of the fire. As the months passed, the investigators uncovered in exhaustive detail an astonishing array of failures — broken or missing fire hoses, poorly trained sailors, improperly stored hazardous material — that had primed the ship for a calamitous fire.

…A separate investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, for its
The command investigation traced the problems back to when the Bonhomme Richard docked for maintenance and Navy leaders throughout the ranks abandoned responsibility for the ship’s safety.

Risks mounted, and nobody paid attention. All told, investigators determined that the actions of 17 sailors and officers directly led to the loss of the ship, and those of 17 more, including five admirals, contributed. The long list was a staggering indictment of everyone from sailors to top admirals who had failed in their jobs.

…Command investigators also found that the admirals charged with overseeing ships in maintenance hadn’t noticed the rising risks on the Bonhomme Richard. Other admirals and captains responsible for fire response didn’t ensure even foundational precautions, such as having large fire pipes on the piers and the distribution of ship maps to local fire departments.

The Navy was at risk for mishandling even a minor fire, investigators found.

As military recruiting levels hit historic lows, stories like this will not inspire a reversal in the trend.


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So you can set a ship on fire amd nothing happens? Millions of dollars lost, could have killed many. WTF

“Another factor that helped the defense was the disclosure from witnesses called by the defense team that centered on new information about another suspect (designated EM) that the Navy was investigating but was forced to stop after the suspect was separated from service.”

    Fantasywriter in reply to gonzotx. | October 2, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    That’s what jumped out at me too. The handwriting matched, plus the other evidence, and he was simply allowed to walk away. Maybe the navy needed the time and resources that would have gone into prosecuting him to ferret out right wing extremists/patriots.

      MosesZD in reply to Fantasywriter. | October 2, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      Handwriting analysis as a forensic tool is a load of crap. Right up there with ‘bite mark’ analysis and most fire analysis prior to the 1990s. In United States v. Saelee (2001), the court noted that forensic handwriting analysis techniques had seldom been tested, and that what testing had been done “raises serious questions about the reliability of methods currently in use.”

      The experts were frequently wrong — in one test “the true positive accuracy rate of laypersons was the same as that of handwriting examiners; both groups were correct 52 percent of the time.”

      You don’t put people in jail for life some shit written on porta-poty when your getting it right is a coin flip!

        artichoke in reply to MosesZD. | October 3, 2022 at 3:48 pm

        There’s more evidence against EM too. Can he face a civilian trial for damage to government property and endangering lives?

    healthguyfsu in reply to gonzotx. | October 2, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    If you read the details, someone wrote “I set the ship on fire” in a port a potty outside the ship and it couldn’t have been the defendant since he was in the brig at the time.

    At the very least, he had a co-conspirator. More likely, it’s a bunch of political creatures with military brass wanting to cover their own catastrophic failures in command by finding a scapegoat. Don’t fall for the BS.

      healthguyfsu in reply to healthguyfsu. | October 2, 2022 at 8:47 pm

      Excuse my post. I read it as though you two thought Mays (the one who was on trial) set the blaze and was allowed to go free.

      In fact, the evidence does not point to him as the firestarter.

      Milhouse in reply to healthguyfsu. | October 3, 2022 at 8:50 am

      The fact that someone wrote that (whether it was EM or someone else) doesn’t prove anything at all. It doesn’t prove he didn’t do it, or that he had an accomplice. The person who wrote it may have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

      All it does is raise the possibility that someone else did it, which the prosecution ought to have properly investigated and ruled out. The prosecution said it did just that; the defense convinced the jury that it hadn’t.

    Gosport in reply to gonzotx. | October 3, 2022 at 9:16 am

    “… because Sailor EM was discharged from the Navy and that it no longer had jurisdiction to question him.”

    Actually, that’s not how it works. He could have been put on legal hold and not released in the first place and/or could have been recalled if there was an ongoing investigation involving him. The military had that option, someone decided not to exercise it,

      NavyMustang in reply to Gosport. | October 3, 2022 at 2:18 pm

      Exactly. Or failing that, hand the case over to the (HORRORS!) the FBI. What happened makes not one bit of sense.

Bucky Barkingham | October 2, 2022 at 12:25 pm

The US Navy may be incompetent when it comes to ship safety but they are meeting their inclusion and diversity goals.

Yeah but at least all those admirals were working really hard on Diversity Inclusion and Equity. And, after all–isn’t that what REALLY counts in today’s military?

Don’t forget, since the military likes acronyms, “Diversity Inclusion and Equity” is DIE. It’s fitting too since they are killing themselves with all the wokeism crap. They made their bed, now they can sleep in it.

That Bonhomme Richard, she’s a beauty!

Military juries tend not to be swayed by overzealous prosecutors. For those with more then minimal interest who’ve been following the case, the Navy seemed focused from the beginning on finding ONE person to balme for the failures of many.

They failed. The military jury did it’s job.

    Sanddog in reply to gospace. | October 2, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    If the crew had been properly trained, they probably could have saved the ship. They couldn’t put out a fire but I’m sure they knew each other’s correct pronouns.

General negligence and specific cause are separable.

Reminds me of the Iowa gun turret explosion incident.

I laughed so hard when he was found not guilty. I didn’t know about the other suspect or that even a military judge recommended the Navy drop the case for lack of evidence. It’s just amazing how incompetent the government really can get at investigating crimes when it decides one person did it and refuses to follow any other leads.

But this sentence, “Sailor EM was discharged from the Navy and that it no longer had jurisdiction to question him” and the following paragraph threw me for a loop.

I get that he’s not in the Navy but a crime was committed while in the Navy and he was a suspect. How would they not have jurisdiction just because he left the service? Plus the ship is still property of the Federal Government so even if you make the argument the Navy can’t have jurisdiction certainly law enforcement agencies such as the FBI would.

I hope this young man gets the hell out of the Navy and gets on with his life.

    henrybowman in reply to TheOldZombie. | October 2, 2022 at 5:11 pm

    “But this sentence, “Sailor EM was discharged from the Navy and that it no longer had jurisdiction to question him” and the following paragraph threw me for a loop.”

    Right. Because as you point out, it’s pure bullshit.

    Milhouse in reply to TheOldZombie. | October 3, 2022 at 8:56 am

    That was the defense’s argument, not the prosecution’s. The prosecution said they stopped questioning EM because they’d become convinced he was innocent; the defense said no, you stopped questioning him because you could no longer compel him to answer your questions, so you decided to concentrate on the suspect over whom you still had authority.

I read earlier that one of the problems lay with the command structure when a vessel goes into a dockyard. A Navy senior officer (who was trying to coordinate a firefighting response) was foiled by two different chains.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Davod1. | October 2, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    I read that because of repairs/modifications going on that many bulkhead hatches couldn’t be secured because of electrical cables strung through passageways. This allowed the fire to spread rapidly.

Now it’s too expensive to repair and too expensive to replace.

Good. They tried to railroad this kid because he was awkward and mouthy. There’s plenty of public evidence to cast doubt on their case. Even the judge in the probable cause hearing recommended they drop the charges. This was a classic case of scapegoating to cover higher-ups’ asses. It’s a shame they have qualified immunity because he should own several admirals’ pensions.

An acquittal at a court-martial is incredibly rare — it’s like actually spotting a prothonotary warbler. That’s because typically the JAG prosecutors don’t take up a case unless it’s bulletproof.
There must have been some incredible pressure either from the command or politicians, or both.

This is what happens when you have an incompetent military, and the navy in particular. The navy took to supervise construction. It did not have to. Contractors could have done it. But once that course was chosen, there was absolutely no supervision. So safety on board, no firemen, no general seamen to maintain cleanliness and dispose of waste 24/7.

Sounds much like the explosion incident on the USS Iowa. The Navy had their suspect and that person was going to be guilty.

Interesting reporting. Sounds like the encircled area was not heavily protected. Also sound like the Russian casualty rates were low. Sounds like in other places the causality rate is high for UK.

Gibbs and Abby would have got it right.

Philip horner | October 3, 2022 at 12:11 pm

Accident or sabatoge is always a risk with fire aboard a ship. A ship in overhaul is even more at risk. So where were the two man roving sounding and security watches with radios to Damage Control Central?

The lack of watch standers sufficient to provide coverage of 100% of the ship’s spaces on a timely basis is what made this disaster happen.

Nowadays pronouns are more important than Damage Control.

“Another factor that helped the defense was the disclosure from witnesses called by the defense team that centered on new information about another suspect (designated EM) that the Navy was investigating but was forced to stop after the suspect was separated from service.”

Hold up. Is his CO facing his own reprimand for failing to implement a legal hold? That would be standard for a case where a service member is being investigated by NCIS.

If not, wouldn’t they pass the baton to…would it be FBI? Not sure which federal civilian law enforcement agency, but I’m pretty sure “EM” is still able to be prosecuted, just not as a uniformed service member.

All that to say, this smells like incompetence both by NCIS and the command.

    Gosport in reply to aivanther. | October 3, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    EM can be recalled to active duty, tried at Court Martial, and if convicted sent to Leavenworth military prison.

    He won’t be the first that has happened to by a long shot.

    Milhouse in reply to aivanther. | October 3, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    The defense’s claim was that since EM had slipped these investigators’ authority, they stopped looking at him. It didn’t matter to them that someone else could not investigate him. They needed to come up with a culprit, and since EM was now over the county line, so to speak, they concentrated their investigation on Mays instead, and ignored all the evidence pointing to EM.

    The prosecution claims this is not true, and they stopped looking at EM because they had decided he was innocent.

Fromage Du Nord | October 3, 2022 at 9:16 pm

…Or: The ship was the victim of sabotage and the Feds are covering it up. Given how the military and govt are operating these days, that’s as plausible an explanation as any. California, it seems, is rife with CCP spies and agents, and taking the BHR off the table is a major win for the PLAN.