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. As 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.
The 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."
According to 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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