No one disputes that the Navy shares responsibility for the loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard, the $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship that was consumed by flames in San Diego in July 2020, officers don’t not reacting quickly and his crew struggling with broken equipment.
But none of this would have happened, according to the prosecution’s closing arguments Thursday, without Ryan Sawyer Mays.
Prosecutors say the young sailor was angry and vengeful for not becoming a Navy SEAL and being assigned to deck duty, so he lit the ship to send a message.
Defense attorneys said in their closing statements that the Navy was determined to award someone the worst non-combat Navy disaster in recent memory – and the sailor they picked, Mays, might be the wrong guy. who now faces a possible life sentence. There is no physical evidence linking the fire to Mays.
It is now up to the Navy Judge alone, who presided over the nine-day trial at Naval Base San Diego, to decide.
Mays, who has been charged with arson and willfully endangering a vessel, says he is innocent.
The prosecution said Mays set fire to cardboard boxes early on Sunday morning in a lower vehicle storage area on the ship – which was docked while undergoing $250million maintenance – to bring back his earlier text to his division officer that the ship was so cluttered with the contractors’ stuff, it was “dangerous as (expletive)”.
Prosecutor Captain Jason Jones admitted in court to a Navy report last year concluding that hell was preventable and unacceptable, and that there were deficiencies in training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and general command and control. The inability to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees (649 degrees Celsius) in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that leaked into other parts of the ship .
Jones told the judge there was no doubt the Navy was “losing the ship” that morning, but Mays was responsible for setting it on fire.
“That punch from behind is what the Navy could never have prevented,” he said.
Defense attorneys say the trial only revealed a shoddy investigation by government investigators who rushed to judgment and failed to gather evidence showing the culprit also allegedly could have been lithium ion batteries or a forklift instead of arson. Investigators took no notes or photos of either of these other potential causes, they say.
“Seaman Mays pointed out that there was a fire hazard on this vessel, and now he faces a court-martial for arson,” said Lt. Cmdr Jordi Torres, the lead defense attorney.
Torres said the Navy’s case hinged on the testimony of a sailor, Seaman Kenji Velasco, who changed his account over time.
On the day of the fire, Velasco did not tell anyone he had seen anyone descend below, even in case a shipmate’s life might be in danger with the fire roaring from the belly of the ship at the time, pointed out the defense.
It wasn’t until days later that he told investigators he saw someone he didn’t recognize in coveralls and carrying a bucket going to the area. Then he said he thought it was Mays and he heard her say sarcastically “I love the bridge.” Then he later said he was “100%” sure it was Mays.
Meanwhile, investigators ignored another sailor’s account, Torres said. She testified at trial that she saw another shipmate flee from the lower vehicle storage area that morning after the fire started, the defense said.
According to the defense, this sailor was also unhappy and had searched Google for information on the heat scales related to the fires. A military handwriting examiner also matched the sailor’s script to graffiti on a port-a-potty wall that read, “I did it. I set the boat on fire”, with a drawing of a burning boat.
Prosecutors said he showed evidence he had researched a novel he was writing about a dragon, and they say cellphone tracking and other evidence showed he was out. of the ship before the fire started.
The prosecution also said investigators found no scientific data to support the theory that batteries or a malfunctioning forklift started the inferno, while testimonies from shipmates bolstered the case. against Mays as well as his own words when escorted in handcuffs and let loose, according to the sailor escorting him to the brig: “It had to be done. I did it.”
The defense said Mays, known to be flippant, was being sarcastic after he denied doing so more than 150 times during the 10 hours of questioning by investigators.