A Navy SEAL who was convicted of sexual assault several years ago may be innocent after all, the nation's top military court ruled on Monday.
In an extremely uncommon occurrence, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ordered a fact-finding investigation into whether the case's presiding officer was forced to hand out a guilty verdict, according to the Washington Times.
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith E. Barry was accused in 2014 of raping and sexual assaulting his then-girlfriend, said the Washington Times. He was sentenced to three years in prison along with a dishonorable discharge.
While Barry admits that the sexual act occurred, he has maintained that everything was consensual. Now two years into Barry's sentence, Rear Adm. Patrick J. Lorge, the admiral who approved his conviction in 2015, is saying that he was pressured to find Barry guilty and that he initially wanted to rule Barry innocent.
Lorge’s May 5 affidavit alleged that then-Judge Advocate General of the Navy Vice Adm. Nanette DeRenzi and then-Rear Adm. James Crawford III reminded him of the importance of taking a hard stance against sexual assault while he was making his decision. Crawford is currently a vice admiral and the judge advocate general of the Navy
"At the time, the political climate regarding sexual assault in the military was such that a decision to disapprove the findings, regardless of merit, would bring hate and discontent on the Navy," Lorge said in an affidavit. "Absent the pressures described [in my affidavit], I would have disapproved the findings in this case."
In October 2016, the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, saying that there was enough circumstantial evidence to back the victim’s claims. Barry’s petition for a review by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was approved on April 27.
The court ruled that fact-finding for the upcoming investigation will be conducted by a military judge with no affiliation to either the Navy or the Marine Corps, according to the Washington Times. The presiding officer has yet to be appointed, but he will have until Nov. 1 to give a copy of his findings to the court.
"This affidavit removes any doubt that the very top leaders in the Navy (Judge Advocate General’s office) committed unlawful command influence," said David Sheldon, Barry's civilian attorney, in a story by the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It confirms that not only is there smoke, there is a conflagration burning out of control."
Depending on the investigation and the appeal, Barry could be freed before he completes his prison sentence, said the Washington Times story.
“A war hero has been wrongly convicted because of the Navy’s top lawyer’s unlawful actions,” said Sheldon to the Washington Times. “The time is now for justice.”