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USMC Major walks out of hearing after pushing reporter to clear his name, instead reporter digs up incriminating evidence

Major Mark Thompson, Major Michael Pretus
Major Michael Pretus (left) and Major Mark Thompson (right).

court-martial after a newspaper uncovered new evidence related to his convictions for indecent acts with female midshipmen walked out of his own preliminary hearing Friday.

Kevin McDermott, the civilian lawyer for Marine Corps Maj. Mark Thompson, called the hearing at Quantico Marine Corps Base a “show trial.” After Thompson was advised of his rights, he and his lawyers walked out of the hearing, making themselves “voluntarily absent,” in military jargon.

The hearing continued without him, featuring lurid details of Thompson’s alleged sexual misconduct, including testimony about three-way sex with two female midshipmen in 2011 while Thompson was an instructor in Annapolis.

The new charges, including making false statements and conduct unbecoming an officer, stem from Thompson’s efforts to clear his name by taking his story to The Washington Post. Instead, a Post writer reported finding further evidence that Thompson lied about sexual encounters with students and published a lengthy piece on the investigation. The newspaper piece prompted a renewed criminal investigation by the Marine Corps.

Thompson was convicted in 2013 of committing indecent acts, fraternization and conduct unbecoming an officer while an academy instructor, though he was acquitted of the most serious charge, aggravated sexual assault. One student alleged Thompson assaulted her; another reported an ongoing consensual sexual relationship.

He was sentenced to 60 days of confinement. After his release, he set about trying to vindicate himself, first in front of an administrative Board of Inquiry, and then by telling his story to the Post. But Post reporter John Woodrow Cox unearthed previously undiscovered evidence implicating Thompson, including a cellphone from one of the female midshipmen with incriminating text messages.

Friday’s hearing consisted primarily of a recorded interview with Maj. Michael Pretus, a friend of Thompson who also was an instructor at the Naval Academy. Pretus testified on Thompson’s behalf at the 2013 court-martial. He now says he lied at that trial to protect himself and his friend.

He now says he knows firsthand that Thompson engaged in sexual misconduct with the midshipmen because he himself was a participant in a threesome with Thompson and the female student back in April 2011. He said Thompson also described a threesome he had with two female midshipmen in a phone conversation.

Pretus’ embarrassment was evident in his voice as he described his tryst.

“I made just a terrible error in judgment,” Pretus said.

Pretus said he remains mystified that Thompson was unwilling to let go of his quest for vindication, instead pursuing a newspaper article that backfired on him badly.

“People would try to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t hear it. You just couldn’t get through to him. He was on an obsession course,” said Pretus, who is receiving immunity for his testimony.

At the end of Friday’s hearing, prosecutor Maj. Sridhar Kaza said the Corps will be seeking a nearly three-year prison sentence against Thompson, who remains on active duty and is now stationed at Quantico. A hearing officer has 10 days to decide whether to recommend Thompson be court-martialed. But the decision on whether to go forward with a court-martial rests solely with Marine Corps Installations Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley.

McDermott initially tried to waive his client’s right to Friday’s hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, altogether. He said the hearing officer’s refusal to allow him to present any of the witnesses and evidence he sought turned the proceeding into a farce. The hearing adjourned while authorities considered the waiver; ultimately, the Marine Corps decided to hold the hearing despite Thompson’s willingness to waive it. It was then that McDermott said he and his client would walk out of the hearing.

“We don’t want to participate in something that’s going to be no more than a show trial,” he said.

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