Rape Conviction Overturned by Military Court Due to Jury Composition


By Debbie Gregory.

The nation’s highest military court has thrown out the 2012 rape conviction of a Coast Guard enlisted man because admirals and prosecutors packed the seven-member jury with five women, four of whom held jobs as advocates for victims of sexual assault.

In a 5-0 ruling that could change how the military conducts sex abuse trials, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces tossed out the conviction of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John C. Riesbeck.

The decision speaks to the way politics influences command choices regarding military justice. From the Coast Guard commandant down to an appellate court to the original trial judge, the high court said all contributed to a “stain on the military justice system.”

Riesbeck claimed a biased jury panel had infringed on his right to a fair trial after he was convicted. He was sentenced to three months’ confinement, demotion, and a bad conduct discharge.

Four admirals had a hand in the final panel: Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft; Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown, then-commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area & Defense Forces West; Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, then-Pacific Area deputy commander; and Rear Adm. June Ryan, then-Pacific Area chief of staff.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but its 40,000 personnel — about 10 percent of whom are women — come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as do all military personnel.

“It is gratifying to see a female judge pushing back against the ‘Me Too’ meme by insisting on due process for the accused Coast Guardsman as well as the accuser in this case,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. “The court also deserves praise for holding accountable Admiral Zukunft, who was involved in what Judge Margaret A. Ryan described as ‘gender-based court stacking’ with professional victims advocates.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Three Cities Sue DoD over Gun Database Reporting

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs

By Debbie Gregory.

Three cities have filed suit against the Pentagon for lapses that allowed a mass shooter in Texas to buy a gun, even though he carried a conviction in military court that should have barred his purchase.

Air Force veteran Devin P. Kelley murdered 25 people and an unborn child at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November. The former logistics specialist had been court-martialed in 2012 and was convicted of two counts of domestic violence against his wife and their child. Kelley was sentenced to 12 months confinement and received a bad conduct discharge in 2014.

In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., the three cities – New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allege that the defendants, which include the military branches and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have failed to properly submit fingerprint cards, as well as information about the results of a criminal proceeding, to the FBI database if troops are charged with or convicted of certain violent crimes, including domestic violence and child abuse.

According to a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps did not submit fingerprint cards to the FBI for 24% of the 2,502 convictions handed down in courts-martial in 2015 and 2016. The branches also neglected to submit final disposition reports in 31% of the cases.

Had the Air Force reported Kelley’s criminal record to the FBI, he wouldn’t have been able to legally purchase the gun he used to conduct the mass shooting.

According to the complaint, ““No new laws are required to achieve that goal. Instead, this Court need only grant Plaintiffs’ request to compel Defendants to diligently implement, and consistently apply, the unambiguous laws that have been on the books for decades.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Missing Since 1977, Airman Discovered Living Double Life


By Debbie Gregory.

A Florida man is facing a desertion charge after he was found allegedly living under another name more than 40 years after he vanished from his post at a North Dakota Air Force base

Jeffrey Michels, 64, was arrested on charges of desertion after he failed to report for duty at North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base in July, 1977. He remains in the custody of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Originally from East Liverpool, Ohio, Michels was found living under the name “Jeffrey Lantz” in Sanford, FL. In the ensuing decades, he got married, had four children and started a construction business in Florida. Online records show the name Jeffrey Lantz had a certified general contractor license for construction business Atlantic Development Corporation.

A photo of Michels was posted on July 9 to the Facebook group “Veteran Doe” — a website dedicated to bringing “attention to the many missing veteran/active duty cases and unidentified person cases where there is a possible military connection.”

“Often the missing person turns out to be a John or Jane Doe case,” Amelia Pearn, the Facebook page administrator who first posted Michel’s picture.

“I was surprised by the results of this one,” Pearn says. “I’m glad he is alive though.”

The Veteran Doe post was deleted after Michels was discovered.

Due to the fact that there is no statute of limitations for deserting a military post, Michels will stand trial in military court.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: Bergdahl Charged with Desertion


By Debbie Gregory.

On March 25, 2015 it was announced that Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl would be charged for his role in his capture by the Taliban.

Bowe Bergdahl was reported missing from his unit in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and held for five years by the Haqqani Network, a militia group loyal to the Taliban. His highly publicized release on May 31, 2014, was secured by exchanging Bergdahl’s freedom for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, known to be top Taliban players before their capture.

During the entirety of his capture, the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post were fiercely debated within the military community and throughout the mainstream media. But testimony from other soldiers in his unit, as well as his own words found in correspondence to his family, indicated that Bergdahl deserted his post.

Shortly after Bergdahl’s release, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey said this about Bergdahl’s future: “The U.S. Army will not ignore any misconduct by released Taliban detainee Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, but he should be considered innocent until proven guilty.” He went on to say, “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.”

On June 16, 2014, the Army began conducting an investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance. In December, 2014, the Army referred Bergdahl’s case to General Mark Milley, Commander of U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM).

General Milley had a variety of legal options to choose from in the case, including the option to drop any and all charges of misconduct against Sgt. Bergdahl. But with the findings of the investigation, which have not been made public, Gen. Milley saw fit to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If found guilty, Bergdahl could face a punishment of up to life in prison.

But it is widely speculated that due to his time spent in captivity, Bergdahl sentence would be little-to-no prison time, if he is found guilty. However, Bergdahl would forfeit any of his Veteran benefits and the back-pay that he would have been due for May 2009 through May 2014.

A general consensus around the military community is that Bergdahl’s actions put other service members’ lives at risk. This point is underlined in the fact that during the initial search for Bergdahl, six soldiers lost their lives. For that reason alone, many service members and Veterans want to see justice served.

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Military Connection: Bergdahl Charged with Desertion: By Debbie Gregory