A new development has emerged in the controversial case of Mark Thompson,
a Marine Major who, in 2013, was convicted of carrying out an inappropriate
relationship with a U.S. Naval Academy student. Now, the military has
launched a new investigation of Thompson over his testimony in a controversial
2014 board of inquiry hearing.
Stars and Stripes reports, the new inquiry has been spurred by new evidence and a recent Washington
Post article the suggested the inquiry hearing was tainted by misinformation.
Thompson's case goes back to 2011 where, according witnesses and court
documents, he engaged in a consensual but inappropriate relationship with
Sarah Stadler, a U.S. Naval Academy student. Thompson was a history teacher
at Naval Academy at the time, but met Stadler through a rifle team. At
some point in the relationship, Thompson invited Stadler and a second
woman, also a U.S. Naval Academy student, over his residence for strip
poker, which also turned into a sexual encounter. The second woman filed
a rape allegation over the incident.
Using both witness testimony and text message evidence, Navy Cmdr. Aaron
Rugh prosecuted Thompson and, while the rape allegations did not stand
up in court, his prohibited relationship with Stadler was exposed. He
was sentenced to two months in a military brig and fined $60,000. Up until
recently, Thompson was appealing those decisions, claiming that the relationship
between he and Stadler was a product of her imagination.
The Board of Inquiry Hearing & the Washington Post
In 2014, Thompson's case was again reviewed via a board of inquiry
hearing to determine whether or not the convictions called for a dishonorable
discharge. At the hearing, Thompson continued to deny the relationship
while under oath.
In what some are calling a perplexing move, Navy Cmdr. Aaron Rugh (who
at this point a judge the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals)
also testified at the hearing via a remote video link. Rugh restated what
he said were crucial facts of the case, including the contents of the
text messages and meetings he and his team had with the Stadler family
to establish a timeline of Stadler and Thompson's relationship.
Stadler's family, however, came forward afterward, claiming that they
had never met with Rugh.
The Washington Post,
which reported on Rugh's discrepancies last month, also got a hold of the Stadler and Thompson's text messages via a
newly discovered lost cell phone and confirmed that, while they did suggest
a sexual relationship, they also contained other academy-related communications—communications
that Rugh had testified were not there.
Washington Post's piece calls to attention possible integrity issue with Rugh, especially
now that he has ascended to a judicial position. "Professional misconduct
by a judge advocate can lead to suspension or revocation of the right
to practice, and for a sitting judge could lead to removal for cause if
the charge is proven," military attorney Eugene Fidell told the
Post. "A mere memory lapse could be asserted by the prosecutor, but he
would have to explain under oath if an investigation is conducted."
Confirmed Cell Phone Evidence
Reporting on Rugh's discrepancies, however, has produced a new focus:
Thompson's testimony. The lost cell phone that Stadler recovered after
the trial contains 650 messages between she and Thompson, some of which,
prove their inappropriate relationship. The texts also apparently invalidate
an alibi Thompson had about one of their final rendezvous around the time
of her academy graduation.
While Stadler maintains that the relationship was consensual, she recognizes
it was also inappropriate and wants further justice. "I hope he gets
dismissed from the Marine Corps before he has a chance to retire,"
she told the new investigating prosecutors.
When confronted with the new evidence, Thompson cites "pressure"
as the reason he lied under oath—especially concerning the original
rape charges. "I simply had to [lie], when they were coming after
me for 41 years," he said. "I can't begin to say, you know,
how terrifying that is."
Stars and Stripes, it will still take months for the military to decide what do with Thompson,
whose appeal is now in flux. He will be eligible for retirement in November.
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