Standing there at the position of attention, that single word seemed to thud on to my chest. The rest of the judge’s words faded…it seemed like he was on mute. I heard crying from the crowd of friends and loved ones who were packed into the gallery behind me.
Before my disbelief had a chance to register, I was told to be seated.
“We will now enter the sentencing phase of this trial.” (This is one of the “advantages” of a military court martial. There is no delay between the conviction and sentencing. That day, 06 May 2011, was day one of any confinement the judge may have imposed.)
My mind was racing. Had someone influenced the judge? My trial defense counsels had assured me that, if nothing else, this judge was above outside influence, above the politics of rank that threatened to cast a shadow on my trial from the beginning. This crusty old judge was known for belittling prosecutors and defense attorneys alike and he wasn’t supposed to feel beholden to the 82nd Airborne Division. That was the main reason I’d chosen to waive my right to a trial by jury! Should I have taken my chances with a jury panel? No…I knew the track record for the 82nd ABN court martial panel. After only six months on the job, the pool of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and command sergeants major designated to the panel had cemented a reputation for ruthlessness and I wanted nothing to do with them. I’d heard my brigade commander say that he entered every court martial assuming guilt just to “save time,” and I suspected the panel might operate similarly.
He’d really said, “Guilty.”