A military judge this week denied a gag order in the criminal case of a Virginia Beach corporal whose supporters say her actions stem from the trauma of a sexual assault at the hands of a fellow Marine.
The Corps had requested the order in November, aiming to bar Cpl. Thae Ohu’s attorneys or any other witnesses from speaking with the press.
In a hearing at Quantico Monday, Judge Lt. Col. Michael Zimmerman quickly dismissed the request, according to Eric Montalvo, Ohu’s attorney with the Federal Practice Group.
“He acknowledged that this would impact constitutional rights to free speech and there was nothing the defense had done to warrant any restriction,” Montalvo said.
A Marine Corps spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Ohu, 27, an administrative specialist with the Marine Corps Intelligence Schools aboard Dam Neck Naval Base, is being charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault on an intimate partner and a host of other charges after prosecutors say she attacked her then-boyfriend in April. She’s been held at the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake since June.
Meanwhile, Ohu’s family has publicly pleaded for her to be released into mental health treatment. They say the April incident was the result of a psychological break and that she’s suffered from severe PTSD and other issues since she was raped by another Marine in Japan in 2015.
The proposed gag order was sparked by The Virginian-Pilot’s reporting on the case, which has also been published in other news outlets such as Stars and Stripes. Marine Corps attorneys argued that statements made to The Pilot about Ohu’s mental health and previous sexual assault allegation were outside the scope of her current legal woes.
“It is inappropriate for counsel, witnesses, or parties to this case to continue communicating with the press and causing extrajudicial statements and factual assertions to be further promulgated,” they wrote in November.
Ohu’s case is a complicated one, intertwining issues about mental health and how the military handles sexual assault allegations.
Stories about her situation have been shared online and in advocacy circles as emblematic of those broader issues. A Facebook page called Justice For Thae Ohu, run by her sister Pan Phyu — a Navy sailor — has more than 7,000 followers.
Montalvo, who served in the Corps for over two decades, including as a prosecutor, previously told the Pilot that of all the cases he’s taken, Ohu ranks among the top five in terms of the severity of her mental health condition. She had been seeking medical retirement when she was arrested.
Montalvo said Tuesday that Ohu has recently gone on new medication that seems to be helping her.
At the hearing this week, the judge also granted Montalvo two eight-hour sessions to confer with Ohu outside of brig confinement.
The victim in the case, Ohu’s ex-boyfriend Michael Hinesley, also a Marine, previously asked officials not to pursue the charges, telling them he believed everything that happened was tied to her service-related trauma.
He told The Pilot in an email last month that though he’s no longer Ohu’s boyfriend, “I am still and will always be her advocate.”
Ohu’s general court-martial is scheduled to begin later this spring.
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