While military prosecutors claim an overall conviction rate of 98%, some defendants still manage to beat air-tight cases, raising questions about favoritism and double-standards in the armed forces justice system.
Case in point: Air Force attempts to court-martial Colonel Michael Murphy, the former head of the service's Legal Operations Agency. Murphy was on the fast-track for flag rank until it was discovered that the career JAG lacked an essential requirement for any military lawyer.
He didn't have a law license.
Colonel Murphy served as an Air Force attorney for more than 20 years despite being disbarred in two states, Texas and Louisiana. Murphy was disbarred in Texas for failing to file an appeal for a client, then lied about his past problems when applying for admittance to the Louisiana bar. When Louisiana learned about Murphy's previous difficulties, he was disbarred in that state as well.
But Murphy never divulged his problems to the Air Force, either, and he advanced steadily until the deception was discovered in 2007. A subsequent investigation resulted in charges of failing to obey a general regulation, conduct unbecoming an officer and larceny. At that point, most legal experts considered Murphy's conviction an all-but-done deal.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the case against Colonel Murphy is in tatters. Last September, the trial judge ruled that Murphy couldn't be punished for his crimes, even if he is convicted. The decision was based on the Bush Administration's refusal to release details of Murphy's classified duties as a member of the White House Military Office, where he served until 2005. Without that information, the judge decided, Murphy's lawyers would be unable to prove that their client had served honorably in the past.
Air Force attorneys have appealed the decision, but analysts believe it's a long shot. In any event, the Murphy courts-martial is now on hold, and there is some speculation that the remaining charges against him may be dismissed. At that point, the Colonel would be allowed to retire, pension intact.
And sadly, Murphy may not be the only officer to dodge a major legal bullet. The folks at MilitaryCorruption.com have been following the case of Navy Lieutenant Commander Rebecca Dickinson. Readers may recall that Commander Dickinson is the former Naval Academy staff member who supplemented her income by working as a high-priced call girl.
In fact, Dickinson worked for the notorious "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jean Pelfrey. Her "girls" performed favors for hundreds of rich and powerful clients in the nation's capital, and Pelfrey's arrest and prosecution made a lot of people nervous.
But Pelfrey carried most of her secrets to the grave. She committed suicide at her mother's home in Florida, not long after her conviction.
By comparison, Commander Dickinson won't be spending any time in jail. Despite admitting that she serviced over 200 clients (at $275 a pop, pun intended), Dickinson worked a plea deal with prosecutors, and wasn't prosecuted for her crimes.
The Navy seemed equally anxious to make the matter "go away," since some of Dickinson's clients were high-ranking military officers. As punishment for her role in the world's oldest profession, Dickinson received a reduction in grade, to lieutenant. However, she'll still receive her pension (worth an estimated $2330 a month) and other retirement benefits.
Libertarians--and others--have long argued that prostitution is a "victimless crime," and offenders don't deserve harsh punishment. But we'd argue that Dickinson's case is a bit different, given her status as a naval officer with a security clearance. For her indiscretions, Dickinson deserved more than a reduction in grade.
But in the military justice system, what you know, who you know (and the favors they perform) can sometimes trump official investigations and criminal prosecutions. That certainly seems to be the case with Colonel Murphy, and that former naval officer who worked as a hooker.