The former Marine Corps commandant’s tough talk against sexual assault is still disrupting military justice, and now is helping call into question the case against a former Georgia-based Marine recruiter convicted of misconduct with four female high school students.
In the latest indirect fallout from the 2012 prosecutorial utterances of now-retired Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, the nation’s highest military appellate court this week agreed to hear a challenge from former Staff Sgt. Nhubu C. Chikaka. A court-martial panel at Parris Island, S.C., convicted Chikaka on multiple charges in 2014 and sentenced him to 12 years, later reduced to 10.
The charges, ranging from abusive sexual contact to indecent language, revolved around Chikaka’s alleged actions while a recruiter in Douglasville, about 100 miles north of Columbus, Ga. The appeal centers on the potential taint of unlawful command influence personified by Amos’ words at a time when lawmakers were decrying an alleged “epidemic of military sexual assault.”
“I know fact from fiction,” Amos told Marines at Parris Island in April 2012. “The fact of the matter is, 80 percent of these (allegations) are legitimate sexual assault.”
Amos further declared as part of what was called his Heritage Brief that the Marine Corps must “get rid” of those who are “not acting right.” The commandant’s rhetoric subsequently incited numerous military defense claims of actual or perceived unlawful command influence. This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces added Chikaka’s challenge to the array.
The government concedes that the purpose of the testimony was to inform the members that, if they provided a significant sentence, it would, in fact, provide a deterrent effect within the Sixth Recruiting District.
U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals
A lower military appeals court previously upheld what it called a “powerful” case against Chikaka.
“Multiple victims testified that (he) used his position and the same modus operandi to repeatedly engage in similar predatory misconduct,” the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals noted. “This testimony was supported by pictures, a text message and records of hundreds of text messages and phone calls.”
Chikaka’s defense team, in turn, is questioning the trial judge’s decision to allow prosecutors to show a picture of Amos posed with one of the alleged victim’s great-grandfathers during sentencing deliberations. Defense attorneys also challenge the trial judge’s admission of a Marine Corps colonel’s “plan to fully operationalize the commandant’s guidance” from the Heritage Brief.
The plan, called Campaign Restore Vigilance, was intended to “eradicate sexual misconduct” from the recruiting district “because we had a significant problem in my view,” Col. William Bowers testified.
The plan noted that in the prior year, “40 incidents of substantiated recruiter misconduct, with 19 of these incidents involving Marines engaging in inappropriate behavior with people of the opposite sex” had been reported in the 6th Marine Corps District, which covers eight Southeastern states.