A ‘Mischievous Act of Defiance Gone Fallacious’: Navy Prosecutors Lay Out Case In opposition to Sailor on Trial for Bonhomme Richard Hearth

A 19-year-old San Diego sailor was so sad along with his life as a deck seaman after failing to develop into a Navy SEAL that, in the summertime of 2020, he snuck right into a automobile storage space on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and ignited a spark, in response to Navy prosecutors. That spark become a blaze that, over the subsequent 4 days, burned and destroyed the $1.2 billion warship, they mentioned.

That is the story Navy Cmdr. Leah O’Brien instructed a choose throughout opening statements within the court-martial of Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays that kicked off this week. Over the previous two days, prosecutors have begun to put the muse of their case for arson — a cost that might ship the sailor to jail for all times if discovered responsible.

Mays, now 21, is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He denies the costs and formally entered a plea of not responsible Monday morning firstly of the proceedings at Naval Base San Diego. The sailor waived his proper to a trial by army jury. The case is being heard by the army choose, Navy Capt. Derek Butler, who shall be tasked with rendering a verdict and sentencing Mays ought to he be convicted.

O’Brien mentioned Mays discovered himself working primarily as a janitor on the Bonhomme Richard, an obligation far beneath what the sailor envisioned for himself when he enlisted to develop into a SEAL. That didn’t occur, O’Brien mentioned. Mays “rung the bell” — or give up — the Navy’s Primary Underwater Demolition/SEAL college in Coronado on his second day.

When sailors fail to finish BUD/S they’re despatched to the fleet Navy as so-called “undesignated” sailors — that means they don’t obtain specialty job coaching or follow-on colleges earlier than reporting to their first responsibility stations.

“(It) was not the glory he envisioned,” O’Brien mentioned of Mays’ job as an undesignated seaman on a Navy warship. “He completely hated his job.”

The Bonhomme Richard was nearing the tip of a protracted upkeep interval through the summer season of 2020, and its crew was not residing aboard. When Mays was knowledgeable he’d be shifting again onto the ship that Monday, July 13, he texted his division officer the ship was “hazardous as (expletive)” as a result of “contractors might catch his rack on hearth,” O’Brien mentioned.

One sailor on watch that morning instructed Navy investigators he noticed Mays — in a masks — stroll into the ship’s decrease automobile storage space carrying a bucket minutes earlier than he noticed smoke developing the automobile ramp.

The fireplace Mays lit on board was a “mischievous act of defiance gone fallacious,” O’Brien instructed the court docket.

Navy Lt. Tayler Haggerty, one among Mays’ three active-duty army choose advocates, mentioned Navy and federal investigators had been fast responsible the hearth on arson and hasty to zero-in on Mays as their prime suspect. Haggerty mentioned “cognitive bias” led regulation enforcement astray after they eradicated one other Bonhomme Richard sailor as a suspect— despite the fact that he’d searched warmth scales on Google lower than an hour earlier than the hearth started.

Haggerty mentioned Mays was decided to get again into an elite program, be it the SEALS or Explosive Ordinance Disposal, and had not given up on the Navy.

“He nonetheless had hope,” Haggerty instructed the choose.

Eight former Bonhomme Richard sailors on the ship that morning testified Monday, together with three who had been the primary to enterprise into the so-called “decrease V” space and see the hearth’s origin.

Three of the eight testified that the sailor who allegedly noticed Mays head down into the realm simply minutes earlier than by no means instructed them somebody may be down there.

Particular Agent Matthew Beals, a licensed hearth investigator with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified Tuesday that there was little doubt that the hearth was intentionally set. Beals, an investigator based mostly in San Diego, led the workforce that pored over the vessel within the days and weeks after the blaze. The investigation concluded that the hearth was attributable to an individual who utilized an open flame to a triple-thick cardboard field, generally known as a tri-wall, within the decrease V utilizing a liquid accelerant, comparable to lighter fluid or paint thinner, Beals mentioned.

Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, Mays’ lead protection legal professional, questioned Beals for greater than three hours in a considerably combative cross-examination. Torres questioned Beals’ conclusion of arson regardless of the invention of lithium-ion batteries — which Beals conceded have been recognized to begin fires — among the many particles close to the burned packing containers within the decrease V.

Beals mentioned after the battery concern was raised by the protection at a listening to in December, he took the batteries to a Maryland hearth analysis lab to check whether or not their failure might have set a tri-wall on hearth.

Beals mentioned he approaches his work scientifically and is prepared to check potentialities. Nonetheless, he got here away from the battery exams much more satisfied they weren’t the hearth’s trigger.

“It stays incendiary,” he instructed Torres of his conclusion, that means the hearth was deliberately set.

Capt. Jay Jones, the Navy’s lead prosecutor, instructed the choose Tuesday he expects the federal government’s key witness — Petty Officer Kenji Velasco — will take the stand Wednesday afternoon.

Velasco, who was on watch close to the higher automobile storage space the morning of the hearth, testified in a earlier listening to that he noticed Mays stroll down the ramp from the higher V to the decrease V simply minutes earlier than he noticed smoke drifting up the ramp.

Prosecutors mentioned they anticipate to relaxation their case Friday. The trial is scheduled via Sept. 29.


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