A U.S. Navy officer’s conviction for strangling his fiancée has been overturned by an appeals court and sent back to the convening authority for a new hearing.
Lt. Cmdr. Jason Scott Doyle pleaded guilty in April 2019 to aggravated assault for strangling his fiancée in Florida back in December 2017.
He was sentenced to a reprimand, nine months' confinement and dismissal from the service.
But on Aug. 31, the Navy-Marine Corps Criminal Court of Appeals threw out that decision and called for a rehearing after ruling that the trial judge, Navy Capt. Colleen Glaser-Allen, failed to properly define the level of force Doyle exerted upon the woman, referred to in the appeal as “DG.”
Precisely when Doyle’s case will be heard again remains unclear.
The case’s future course will be decided by convening authority Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander of Navy Region Northwest, since Doyle was assigned to the Washington state-based Patrol Squadron 47 at the time of the incident.
Barnett will reevaluate the case and can authorize a new trial, according to region spokesman Joe Kubistek, who added he did not have a timeline for when that new hearing will happen.
Doyle’s Navy attorney, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Riedel, declined comment.
The appeals court was right to reject Doyle’s guilty plea “because the record was murky as to the level of force (Doyle) exerted,” according to Eugene R. Fidell, a civilian attorney who specializes in military law and reviewed the appeal.
While Doyle will presumably plead guilty again, “the military judge will focus more sharply on the degree of force to which he admits,” Fidell told Navy Times in an email.
“Alternatively, the prosecution could play it safe and pursue a lesser charge of simple assault, as to which there would be no doubt about whether a guilty plea was well-founded,” he added. “Had it been more cautious in framing the charge in the first place, it would have saved everyone a lot of time and effort.”
Doyle was initially accused of throwing DG onto a couch in December 2017 and strangling her before chasing her out of a St. Johns County, Florida, residence and choking her again “with intent to kill,” according to charge sheets.
He was also charged with battery after military prosecutors said he struck the woman repeatedly in the face and told her, “If I can’t have you, nobody will…I’m going to kill you.”
But an aggravated assault charge for strangulation from the same incident was later added and Doyle pleaded guilty to it as part of a pretrial agreement.
Doyle was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, when he met DG at a bar in 2016, and they got engaged seven months later, according to the appeal.
He received orders to Whidbey Island, Washington, the following year and the two maintained a long-distance relationship that had become rocky by December 2017, the appeal states.
“The week before (Doyle) assaulted DG, (Doyle) found an overnight bag from an unknown male in their bathroom,” the appeal ruling states.
During his trial, Doyle told the judge that things turned physical on Dec. 19, 2017, after DG called him a “passive pussy” and “not an aggressive man,” according to the appeal.
DG had two kids from a past relationship and told Doyle he was “too nice,” the appeal ruling states.
“That I wasn’t aggressive enough, that…she was attracted to assholes and I was not that,” Doyle told the judge.
“I’m not saying she asked for it…but…I thought okay, well, she wants me to be aggressive,” he continued. “And I put my hands around her neck…asking her if that’s what she wanted.”
When St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at DG’s home, she had injuries to her neck consistent with being choked, plus “a noticeable knot on her forehead from an unknown cause which occurred during the physical altercation,” according to a sheriff’s office report.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.