Sailor Acquitted of Setting Fire That Destroyed $1.2 Billion Navy Ship

Sailor Acquitted of Setting Fire That Destroyed $1.2 Billion Navy Ship

In the weeks after the fire, Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents zeroed in on Seaman Mays after one young sailor who had been on watch said he saw a person wearing a mask and coveralls carrying a bucket to the deck where the fire started.

On the stand, though, the sailor admitted that his account had evolved under pressure from law enforcement. Initially he said he was unable to recognize the person who walked past. Later he agreed that the person “might be” Seaman Mays, and eventually, after seven interviews, he said that he was “90 percent sure.”

For six months, Navy investigators pursued a sailor other than Seaman Mays, whom a witness said she saw sprinting from the vehicle bay at the time of the fire. A military expert said that sailor’s handwriting was a probable match with a message scrawled in a portable toilet at the base saying: “I did it. I set fire to the ship.” Other evidence from that sailor’s internet searches and personal writings also seemed to suggest possible involvement.

The lead investigator in the case, Special Agent Maya Kamat, testified in Seaman Mays’s trial that she interviewed that sailor four times, and shortly after the fourth interview, the sailor attempted suicide. He was administratively separated from the Navy a few days later. The Navy no longer had jurisdiction over him and stopped pursuing him, focusing instead on Seaman Mays.

Seaman Mays made it no secret that he had come to hate the Navy. Prosecutors played video footage of him telling investigators in crude language that he saw the “fleet Navy” as worthless, and that the only sailors “doing real stuff” were the SEALs and other special operators. But investigators turned up no physical evidence linking him to the fire, and he repeatedly denied setting it.

Prosecutors did not make a public statement after the verdict was delivered on Friday.

Seaman Mays spoke briefly on the courthouse steps after his acquittal, thanking the judge and his lawyers.

“I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined,” he said. “I’m looking forward to starting over.”

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