Sailor Accused of Torching Bonhomme Richard Acquitted by Judge

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Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego after an explosion and fire on board the ship.
In this July 12, 2020, file photo, smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego after an explosion and fire on board the ship. (Denis Poroy/AP File Photo)

A Navy judge has acquitted Seaman Ryan Mays of setting a 2020 fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard that raged for days and ultimately left the ship unsalvageable.

"Seaman Recruit Mays was found not guilty on the charges of willful hazarding of a vessel and aggravated arson. The Navy is committed to upholding the principles of due process and a fair trial," said Lt. Samuel R. Boyle, spokesman for U.S. 3rd Fleet, in a statement to The Associated Press.

Capt. Derek Butler, the judge for this case, found Mays not guilty on Friday, ending a nearly two-year legal battle and nine-day trial for the 19-year-old sailor.

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The Navy's case argued that Mays, an undesignated sailor on the ship and a dropout from the SEAL training program, was a disgruntled sailor who hated the Navy. However, much of the case leaned on shifting eyewitness accounts that Mays was spotted in the area where the fire started.

Additionally, the Navy chose to press forward with the case in late February despite the recommendations of the legal officer who presided over the initial hearing in the trial.

    Mays' lawyer at that time, Gary Barthel, told Military.com that "the preliminary hearing officer, that was appointed by the command, didn't believe that the evidence warranted going to a court-martial."

    Also looming over the case was a Navy report that found major failures by commanders and crew that fueled the catastrophic blaze.

    That investigation named 36 people -- including several admirals -- as accountable in the blaze. 

    Seventeen sailors were cited for failures that "directly" led to the loss of the ship, while others "contributed" to the loss.

    The Bonhomme Richard's three top leaders at the time of the blaze were all given punitive letters of reprimand, and the commander and executive officer were also ordered to forfeit pay.

    Vice Adm. Richard Brown, the commander of the naval forces for the Pacific at the time of the fire, was also censured by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

    This is a breaking story that will be updated.

    -- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.  

    Related: Sailor Accused of Starting Bonhomme Richard Blaze Will Be Court-Martialed, Admiral Decides 

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