Marine Corps command influence case appealed

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 25, 2014 

Questions about alleged unlawful command influence that have dogged sexual assault cases in the Marine Corps have now been placed before the nation's top military appeals court.

In a new filing this week, Marine Corps Capt. David A Peters asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to consider a challenge by former Sgt. Roger Easterly. Like a number of other Marines charged with sexual assault or related allegations, Easterly contended public comments by the commandant, Gen. James Amos, amounted to unlawful command influence.

The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this year rejected Easterly's appeal, though without fully delving into the touchy UCI issue.

In the latest appeal, Peters argues that the unlawful command influence issues "simply cannot go unaddressed" by the top appeals court.

"The lower court erred by failing to test for the appearance of unlawful command influence," Peters wrote. "It erred further by finding that Sgt. Easterly's trial appeared fair in the eyes of the public."

During the so-called "Heritage Brief" presentations in question, Gen. Amos declared that he was "very disappointed" with many results at court martial and urged Marines to reject a "bullshit" defense theory in sexual assault cases.

Easterly received some brig time and a bad conduct discharge, after being convicted of adultery and assault. 

For Easterly, the case boils down to a last chance to get out from under the severely punitive bad conduct discharge. For other Marine Corps defendants, as well as military trial judges, the case could be an opportunity for further clarity in a tricky arena.

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