Though I’ve written about many military justice cases involving men fighting false sexual assault allegations, I think the words of those directly impacted by the false allegations and military trials that follow carry more weight. Therefore, I’m sharing the content of a message I received today from a woman who went through the nightmare of her military husband’s court-martial and conviction. For reasons that should become obvious to you as you read her words, the names and personal information have been changed to protect their identities.
Shown above with Bob McCarty are (clockwise from upper left): MSgt. Mike Silva, Air Force; Maj. Christian “Kit” Martin, Army; Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Stewart, Army; and Sgt. Todd Knight, Army. These military men represent but a handful of the men who’ve been caught up in the Pentagon’s sexual assault witch hunt.
Hello, Mr. McCarty:
I know you receive messages from many families, so I am not sure if you remember me, but we communicated several years ago about my husband, Phil. Phil and I started dating while he was going through a divorce. He was (wrongfully) convicted the following year when his now ex-wife accused him of forcible sodomy after he and I started dating. Although this tragedy has made things very hard at times, we have had the happiest relationship and marriage for nearly eight years now. Anyhow, I read the article about Todd Knight and the letter from his mother, and it reminded me to reach out to you.
Although it has been very hard, Phil and I have moved on, as much as one can move on, from this tragedy. Much like Todd Knight’s mother, I am amazed at how my husband manages to keep pressing forward. We spent upwards of $40,000 fighting for custody of his children. Unfortunately, every time we would prevail and custody would be awarded to him, his ex-wife would take off in hiding long enough to have jurisdiction moved to another state. We could not financially afford to continue the fight and his ex-wife was starting to punish the kids for wanting to see him, so he made the very difficult decision to stop fighting in the hope that by doing so his ex-wife would stop punishing his daughters. He put his faith in God that he will watch over them and reunite them again someday. We have not seen the kids in over 5 years, sadly. His ex-wife has since accused yet another military member, her now-estranged second husband, of abuse. He is her 3rd service member victim, and we pray that all the children involved (Phil’s and her second husband’s) will somehow make it through this with minimal damage, or at the very least, that some day we can help them through any damage they have suffered as a result of this terrible situation. In light of this new development, we gave it a great deal of thought to restart our fight again. We have been even looking at hiring the appeals lawyers Dallas can offer us, maybe even search for a local law firm. Still, when faced with the possibility of his ex-wife pulling the same tricks, and thinking about the amount of money we spent fighting her before, we soon lost our nerve once again.
The most troubling and heart breaking part of this is hearing so many people tell us that they cannot believe he was convicted. Even the sexual assault therapist he was ordered to meet with during confinement and the law enforcement officers and prosecutor in charge of enforcing his offender registration are in disbelief that he was convicted. His case was literally “he said, she said,” and she was accusing him of assault years after she claimed it occurred (and only after he had started dating someone new), but still he was convicted nonetheless.
On one hand, it makes him feel good to hear that people who are actually trained and experienced with these sort of matters truly believe in his innocence. On the other hand, it is a hard thing to swallow because, even in spite of that, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Having this weighing over his head and losing out a on a relationship with his children are things that will always weigh heavy on his heart (their birthdays, father’s day and holidays are still very solemn for him), but we have moved on as much as one can from this.
Phil finally has a great job — a career he loves. We have a beautiful home and are starting a family. I suppose that is my intention of telling you all this — to let other families, other service members effected in this way know that they should continue to fight, but in any case, there is hope at rebuilding life after this kind tragedy. If ever we can provide support or a kind ear to other service members or families effected in this way, please feel free to tell them they may contact us.
Very best, Name withheld
The story told in the letter above bears many striking similarities to other military justice cases I’ve followed during the four years since the release of Three Days In August, a nonfiction book in which I chronicle the life story and wrongful conviction of a highly-decorated combat veteran and elite Green Beret on bogus sexual assault allegations.
Stay tuned for more details about this story as I’m working to obtain copies of the Record of Trial and other documents related to this case. Inexplicably, according to the couple involved, the military branch in which he served said the ROT was “classified” and refused to give him a copy of it upon request. As incredible as that seems, nothing surprises me anymore when it’s related to the Pentagon’s sexual assault witch hunt.
UPDATE 11/6/2015 at Noon Central: Though I’ve promised not to reveal the names of the players involved in the case outlined above, I located the ex-wife/accuser of “Phil” and discovered she maintains a presence on several social media platforms and has more than one pornographic web site as part of a business that uses sex-related words and imagery as its primary products. How the military justice system sided with her is beyond comprehension!
A lot of folks will be wearing costumes and masks tonight, but, God willing, I’ll continue to be who I am and do what I do best. The latest examples of my work can be found below in my weekly recap for Oct. 25-31, 2015.
Editorial cartoon courtesy David Donar at http://politicalgraffiti.wordpress.com.
Today, I plan to watch some football, run some stairs at my favorite lake and hand out sugar pills to kids too young to care about getting fat from eating them.
Thanks in advance for reading and sharing the articles above and those to follow. You can show your support and help keep these articles coming by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same. To learn how to order signed copies, click here.
After publishing an article Thursday afternoon about the Army’s prosecution of Sgt. Todd Knight on allegations he raped a woman while stationed in Germany, I shared a link to the article with Knight’s mother, Teresa McQueen, and she replied about two hours later with a heartfelt message about the chain of events during which her son was found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to one year in prison, a loss of rank to the lowest enlisted grade and, upon completion of his sentence, a dishonorable discharge and a life spent as a convicted sex offender. Below, with her permission, I share her reply:
Click on image above to read article.
Wow. I can’t believe that these women are allowed to continue with their daily lives as if they did not ruin a person’s career and life. I was so proud of my son for choosing to join the military. His love of the military is what inspired his younger two siblings to join the military. Todd has suffered so much as a result of this. Each year he is forced to go through the process of registering as a sex offender which is especially difficult for him since he knows that the alleged victim lied. He is forced to commute well over an hour a day to work – and that is with good traffic – because its easier for him to live in a more rural area.
Earlier this month, the military started garnishing his paycheck to repay the reenlistment bonus he was given prior to this incident. So now, depending on how much overtime he works, approximately $400 is taken out of each of his paychecks until a balance of $20,000 is paid. He didn’t even get $20,000 as an enlistment bonus which leads us to believe the military is actually charging him interest! Ultimately, it is no secret that wage overtime laws can often seem to be complex. You can learn more about the law surrounding overtime pay at bairdquinn.com.
This photo shows Todd Knight in his Army uniform prior to being accused of rape and convicted on a lesser charge.
To be quite honest, I do not know how Todd pushes through, day after day, but he does. He is such a “glass half full” person and is always trying to help others. In fact, sadly, it is he who is constantly consoling me about this whole situation. I have never felt so powerless in my life. I wish you could have been at Todd’s court-martial. He was guilty before the trial even began. As his family, we had to watch how his command turned on him. While food and water was brought to the alleged victim, Todd, who was supposed to have been considered innocent at that time, and his family (myself, his sister and step-father), were forced to go without eating lest we not make it back in time for when the trial resumed. They knew we did not have a vehicle and were dependent on them for a ride.
However, what I found most disturbing was that we were not allowed in the courtroom during Todd’s trial. So we could not give him the support of at least seeing a friendly face and knowing that he was not in this alone. The alleged victim was allowed to be in the courtroom with one of her friends. I can only imagine, the panel probably believed he was such a terrible person (that) his own family did not feel it was necessary to be with him during this terrible ordeal.
His lawyer told me repeatedly prior to the trial, that I needed to prepare myself because, short of the alleged victim retracting her story at trial, he would be convicted. Having a law degree myself (although not being familiar with criminal law and having a father who is a public defender), never in my wildest dreams did I think they would actually convict him based on the evidence presented at trial. Little did I know that all it takes is to be accused of sexual assault. Once you are accused, it’s a done deal. There is no “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s ‘You’re guilty, and we will just see how much time you will get.'”
When Todd began serving his sentence, his apartment was literally a ‘free for all,’ thanks to his immediate superiors, the people who were supposed to be making sure his apartment was packed up and his belongs shipped to me in California. Because I believed his superiors were looking out for “one of their own,” I never bothered to go through any of the crates that were now being kept in storage until Todd’s release. It was not until about a month before Todd was scheduled to be released that I visited the storage unit to retrieve and wash his clothes so that he would have some form of normalcy by having his own things. Everybody loves to have that feeling of wearing fresh clothes after they’ve just come out of the washing machine, and I wanted to give Todd that same feeling when he got released. It was a good job that I didn’t find myself in the same position as my friend who had to contact this appliance repair company in Columbia (https:www.ColumbiaApplianceFix.com) because her washing machine had decided to break on her. Luckily for her, they managed to fix it, but if that had happened to me, I don’t know what I would’ve done. It would’ve been my worst nightmare because I just wanted to make everything special for Todd, and having clean clothes would’ve been good for him. Also, he told me he had a few suits which he had had tailored and should have been in (the storage unit). Because he had an interview scheduled for the week following his return, I wanted to have (the suits) dry cleaned.
It was with horror that I saw many of the things that were shipped were either not his or basically just trash. None of the items Todd said should have been shipped to me were included in that shipment. His computer was gone. His laptop was gone. His camcorder was gone. All of his computer software, his PS4 and its games were gone. His new flat screen TV was gone. There was not one piece of furniture delivered. As God is my witness, there wasn’t even one pair of shoes included in that shipment. Anyone who knows Todd knows he is a clothes and shoe hoarder. Todd was single, he liked nice things, and he bought nice things. They took everything. After a lot of complaining, they finally sent a second shipment of kitchenware and an old broken TV Todd actually did tell his command they could have.
At one point, I even learned one of his superiors was driving around in Todd’s car that was supposed to have been sold and the money given to Todd. After many calls to that guy and his superior, I was finally able to at least get something in writing which released Todd from any liability should someone have an accident in that vehicle.
Although Todd is trying to get on with his life and stay positive, there is always something – like the garnishment – that seems to make him move back five or six steps. He finally has a job that he loves and the people love him. However, now everyone knows that something is going on in Todd’s life, because his paychecks are being garnished by the military.
It’s very upsetting to me as I am sure you can imagine. No one deserves to have something like this happen to them. Everyone deserves a fair trial. With this in mind, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation to us, I cannot stress how important it is to do plenty of research to find a criminal lawyer that has experience dealing with cases that are similar to your own. For example, if you are based in Philadelphia, this might mean researching the best criminal lawyers bucks county has to offer. Getting professional legal support is crucial if you are going to make it through to the other side, regardless of the final outcome. Also, do you know that after Todd’s conviction, in order to try to get the least amount of time as possible, they actually expected him to apologize to the alleged victim? Although at the time, believing he would end up with more like seven years, I encouraged Todd to just say what they wanted him to say if it meant he would get less time. But I must admit, Todd stuck to his guns and refused to apologize for something he did not do.
This whole thing has been a nightmare for me, and I’m not even the person who had to serve time and go through God only knows what while in prison. I just wish the military would rethink how they approach accusations of sexual assault. The accused is not guilty simply because the accuser says he is. With Todd’s investigation, they did not care if he was innocent. Their entire investigation stemmed on gathering only that evidence that would aid the prosecution in obtaining a guilty verdict, regardless of whether the accuser was guilty or not.
Sorry for the long rant. I am just heartbroken over this whole thing.
I’ve talked with dozens of military men about their experiences of being falsely accused of sexual assault during the four years since the release of my book, Three Days In August. Today, I learned some of their cases were likely tainted by the fact members serving on court-martial panels — the military equivalent of a jury — during their trials had watched “The Invisible War” as part of the Army’s sexual assault awareness and prevention training.
In an article published Monday about the case of former Army Sgt. Todd Knight, I mentioned the fact than an Army lieutenant colonel selected to serve on the court-martial panel during Sergeant Knight’s trial said he had watched a 20-minute clip from the Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Invisible War,” as part of “a sexual assault special briefing” for Army leaders.
This photo shows Todd Knight in his Army uniform prior to being accused of rape and convicted on a lesser charge.
In the same article, I mentioned how that colonel, along with other members of the panel, had found Sergeant Knight guilty and sentenced him to one year behind bars and a reduction in rank to E-1, the lowest enlisted rank and a rank he would hold until the end of his sentence when he would be dishonorably discharged from the Army. What I failed to mention is that Knight is out of prison now and living as a convicted sex offender while working through the appeals process, hoping to see his conviction overturned.
Below is an excerpt from the aforementioned article:
CASE TWO: CONTROVERSIAL ALLEGATIONS OF RAPE
In another case that has become infamous and a rallying cry for politicians, is a case at Marine Barracks 8th & I, where a female officer alleged she was raped by another officer. In that case evidence revealed that the complainant, Ariana Klay, was cheating on her husband with the officer that she accused of raping her. That evidence is based on her own testimony. The relationship lasted for an 18-month period.
Before she made the allegations of rape, evidence revealed that she was caught in bed naked with a junior Marine from the barracks. During a formal investigation into other allegations made by Klay, the female investigator and former prosecutor came close to discovering the truth of the affair and of the romp with the junior Marine— which could have revealed Klay’s sexual relationship with the officer she later accused of rape. Shortly before the completion of the investigation, she alleged rape again. This alleged offense happened on the same day that her lover found her naked with a junior Marine.
Significant evidence stood in contrast with her claims: also present at the time of the alleged sexual rape was a witness who testified he could hear Klay and her lover in her bedroom laughing and engaged in what sounded like a good time. During examination at trial, Klay contradicted herself under oath and told many lies. She could not explain why she sent my client a nearly naked picture of herself in a bikini on the beach taken by her husband, a week after the alleged rape.
In spite of this information, Klay is featured in an HBO movie called The Invisible War. While I cannot comment about the other women in the Invisible War, I think Klay’s own testimony reveals the film’s lack of objectivity or validity regarding sex assaults in the military, at least with respect to the Klay case.
In addition to the allegations-related content of Klay’s trial testimony, I found it interesting that Klay said her husband, Ben Klay, “works for the White House Budget Office.”
It will be interesting to find out how Army officials justify continued use of this documentary as part of their sexual assault awareness and prevention training.
Three years ago this month, I was contacted for the first time by Teresa McQueen, a woman whose son, Todd Knight — then a 25-year-old Army Sergeant stationed in Germany — had been accused of raping a 19-year-old woman. Today, I offer a long-overdue update about that case and issue a call to action.
This photo shows Todd Knight in his Army uniform prior to being accused of rape and convicted on a lesser charge.
First, a review of some case details is in order.
On March 7, 2013, I published an article that included snippets about several cases involving military men accused of sex crimes. Below is the text of the portion of the aforementioned article that pertained to Knight’s case:
While stationed in Germany, Army Sergeant Todd Knight befriended a young German woman while out with friends the night of Jan. 27, 2012. At some point during the evening, he and three other Soldiers – one of whom he considered a friend – accompanied the woman and one of her friends to the home where the sister of one of the women – but not the accuser – lived.
What actually happened at the home, however, remains a matter of much debate as conflicting stories were given to German authorities. Two things, however, stand without dispute: Sergeant Knight was arrested by German authorities the next day, accused of rape, and those same German authorities eventually decided not to pursue the case.
U.S. military officials, on the other hand, decided to move forward with charges of their own despite the fact that the alleged victim testified during the Article 32 hearing that she couldn’t remember what had happened that night and despite the aforementioned conflicting statements.
On Dec. 18, 2012, Sergeant Knight was found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to one year behind bars and busted to E-1, the lowest enlisted rank and a rank he would hold until the end of his sentence when he would be dishonorably discharged from the Army.
Three months after Sergeant Knight’s conviction, people continued to show interest in proving the 25-year-old Soldier’s innocence. One who showed interest was the German woman at whose home the alleged rape occurred.
In a “To Whom It May Concern” letter dated February 28, 2013, she wrote that she had known Sergeant Knight for more than two years, and then she dropped a bombshell, explaining that the sergeant’s unemployed accuser “told me SGT Knight did not rape her, and that she only said that because she didn’t want her boyfriend at that time to find out she was cheating on him.”
Unfortunately, communications with Knight’s family ended a few months after the trial — they were, to say the least, distraught — and resulted in me not receiving copies of several documents, including the Record of Trial. Things changed, however, a few days ago, after I came across Knight’s case among my military justice files and decided to contact his mother again.
In response, she sent me an electronic copy of the ROT as well as several documents related to his appeal. She stated that she wanted me to look through his documents as she wanted the opinion of someone who understood Appeal Law in relation to his case.
In the ROT, I learned several Soldiers selected to serve on the court-martial panel (i.e., the military equivalent of a jury) were in the rating chain of either the convening authority (i.e., the senior officer ordering a court-martial be held) or another panel member. Any chance of undue command influence as a result? Damn right!
I learned Sgt. 1st Class Gary G. Emmert told the court he had completed the 80 hours of Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training necessary to serve as a sexual assault victim advocate and was, in fact, serving as the victim advocate for his unit at the time he was tasked to serve as a panel member.
I learned LTC John D. Koch told the court he had served on “multiple court-martials before” and, while that’s not unusual for a line officer of his rank, something else he said caught my attention. When asked if he had ever served on a panel adjudicating a sexual assault case, he answered, “Yes.” Asked how many times he had served on such a panel, he answered, “I believe twice. I’ve lost count of how many were there.”
Colonel Koch also confirmed that he had received “a sexual assault special briefing” for Army leaders while stationed at Vicenza, Italy, earlier the same year. During that special briefing, he and fellow trainees watched a 20-minute clip from “The Invisible War.” the Oscar-nominated documentary in which a handful of cases purported to be representative of the so-called sexual assault “epidemic” in the military are highlighted while solid facts, as highlighted in my recent article about lies, damned lies and statistics, are largely excluded.
Could forcing Soldiers to watch that film be construed as exerting undue command influence via brainwashing? I think so. But I digress.
Because the ROT contains 663 pages, I’ll use a 15-page document — the brief filed April 9, 2014, on Knight’s behalf with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals by Frank Spinner, his Colorado Springs-based civilian defense attorney, and Capt. Brian Sullivan, his military defense attorney — to help explain why the case against Knight was so weak. Below is the text of that document’s “Argument” section with boldface type added for emphasis by yours truly and the names of the accuser and the author of the aforementioned “To Whom It May Concern” letter redacted:
The government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that SGT Knight engaged in an act of sexual intercourse with (accuser) while she was substantially incapacitated and that SGT Knight was not under a mistaken belief that she consented to sexual intercourse. The case is built on (accuser’s) credibility regarding what happened when she was alone with SGT Knight in the apartment bathroom.
The defense portrayed (accuser) as a woman who flirted with SGT Knight through the course of the social evening they experienced with mutual friends, but who turned on him after they consensually engaged in sexual intercourse and she learned he had a girlfriend. She did not back down from her claim, because she saw an opportunity to financially benefit from a victim compensation opportunity.
The government countered by claiming that SGT Knight took advantage of her because of the amount of her alcohol consumption, which left her vulnerable and impaired to the degree that she was unable to consent.
The government presented testimony from German police and Army forensic experts addressing chains of custody and laboratory analysis of evidence. Their testimony, however, was not helpful in determining the central issue of consent. They merely confirmed that a complaint was made and investigated, following normal protocols, even though the investigation was somewhat limited in scope.
SGT Knight did not testify, instead relying on the requirement for the government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
To the extent that accuser testified, she acknowledged that she had a poor, arguably selective, memory about what happened that night. No witness saw her pass out, nor was there any evidence she consumed any more alcohol than anyone else who socialized with them that evening. The accuser, an experienced drinker, who admitted to getting drunk on prior occasions, confirmed she had no more to drink that night than what is normal for her.
This begs the question: what evidence supports her claim that she was substantially incapacitated? There is no evidence other than that she consumed six drinks over a period of four hours. This amount of alcohol consumption, standing alone, does not prove substantial incapacitation beyond a reasonable doubt. The government did not present any evidence that accuser was drugged, even though she claimed that she may have been drugged.
Then there is the issue of whether the government disproved the mistake of fact affirmative defense beyond a reasonable doubt. When the testimony of the witness is combined with the photographs of SGT Knight and accuser, the evidence clearly supports a mistake of fact defense.
The witness’ testimony deserves closer scrutiny. The witness observed the interaction between accuser and SGT Knight at the critical point where SGT Knight went into the bathroom at her apartment. She also talked to accuser right after the alleged rape. Witness appears to have inferred from what she heard and observed that accuser pulled SGT Knight in the bathroom and rubbed her back and, afterwards, when telling witness that she had sex with SGT Knight, wanted to communicate with him again. It was at this point witness informed accuser that SGT Knight would not respond because he had a girlfriend. Thus, a potential motive for the claim was born.
One possible explanation for the court members’ decision involves the face that accuser vomited a couple of times that night. On the one hand, it could be argued that no one would have sex with another person in that condition. On the other hand, in the context of individuals drinking and flirting with each other, why would this face necessarily keep two people from having sex? There is not way this question can be easily answered. The real problem is whether any adverse inference that flows from this fact against SGT Knight should be drawn beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no empirical basis for drawing such an inference.
In the absence of any objective corroboration of accuser’s claim that she was sexually assaulted, what evidence makes her believable beyond a reasonable doubt? There is none. In fact, a number of considerations raise serious questions about her credibility. Why did she use a translator when she testified? Accuser was born to a U.S. Army soldier, and who was married to a U.S. Army soldier at the time of trial, simply did not need that assistance.
Then there is the question regarding whether accuser may have been drugged. Although she acknowledged that this is what she originally believed, by the time of trial, her belief had changed because there was no evidence to support this belief. At trial, her story became that in pretrial interviews the prosecutors helped her see how drunk she was. This is inconsistent, however, with the amount of alcohol this experienced drinker consumed that night by her own admission.
Finally, was there some financial motive behind her claim? She retained an attorney shortly after she made her initial complaint, for the purpose of seeking victim compensation from the Army.
Just as experts could not look at the physical evidence and determine whether they were caused by assaultive behavior, this Court cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that accuser told the truth or that SGT Knight did not have a mistaken belief that she consented to sexual intercourse.
Perhaps as damning as the claim by the author of the “To Whom It May Concern” letter that the accuser had told her she had not been raped, is the fact the accuser received a payment from the U.S. Army as compensation for pain and suffering stemming from a rape that did not happen. While I’ve been told she received a payment in the neighborhood of $20,000, I’m attempting to obtain a copy of any official documentation that reveals the exact amount of money she received. I will share that amount in an update as soon as I get it.