How case against Ryan Sawyer Mays fell apart as sailor is found NOT GUILTY of USS Bonhomme Richard fire

How case against Ryan Sawyer Mays fell apart as sailor is found NOT GUILTY of USS Bonhomme Richard fire
Ryan Sawyer Mays found not guilty of setting fire to USS Bonhomme Richard (Screenshot/KPBS Public Media/Lt John J Mike/US Navy via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: A US Navy sailor, charged with setting a $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship has been found not guilty. Ryan Sawyer Mays, 21, was acquitted in the case of a fire on USS Bonhomme Richard, which injured dozens, by the military court judge on Friday, September 30.

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A loud sob erupted from the 21-year-old sailor immediately after he heard the verdict. Then he went into the gallery where his family was seated and hugged his wife. His mom rubbed his back as he cried.

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Military prosecutors argued that Mays intentionally ignited the USS Bonhomme Richard in the summer of 2020 after he dropped out of Navy Seal training during a nine-day trial at Naval Base San Diego.

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According to the militiary judge, Captain Derek Butler, the prosecution failed to present enough hard evidence that tied Mays to the arson. Rather, they relied on circumstantial evidence backed by the testimony of just one eyewitness.  

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Lt Samuel R Boyle, spokesman for US 3rd Fleet said, “Seaman Recruit Mays was found not guilty on the charges of willful hazarding of a vessel and aggravated arson. The Navy is committed to upholding the principles of due process and a fair trial,” Independent reported.

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Mays was accused of igniting cardboard boxes in a lower storage area of the amphibious assault ship after prosecutors charged him with arson and willful hazarding. Several sailors were injured in the fire, which occurred while the USS Bonhomme Richard was docked and undergoing maintenance in San Diego harbor.

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SAN DIEGO , CA - JULY 12: Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Local, base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. USS Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. (Photo by Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020.  (Photo by Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Mays' defense team asserted there was no physical evidence linking him to the fire – instead, the prosecution relied on an eyewitness who shifted his account several times and admitted feeling pressured by authorities when he implicated Mays, according to KFMB, a San Diego television news station.

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Ryan
Ryan Mays speaking to reporters after the judge in his case announced the acquittal (Screenshot/NBC news)

"I'm so grateful this is finally over," Mays told reporters after the judge in his case announced the acquittal. "It's been a long two years. I've been waiting a long time. I could say the past two years have been the hardest of my entire life as a young man."

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Mays, who was flanked by his defense attorneys, his wife, and family added, "I've lost time with friends. I've lost friends. I've lost time with family and my entire Navy career was ruined. I'm looking forward to starting over."

Repairing the ship would have required  between five and seven years and cost between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion, so it was ultimately scrapped by the Navy for a cost of $30 million.

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According to a Navy report last year, this fire could have been prevented if proper training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, and maintenance had been implemented.

Despite the fact that the Navy has lost 30 ships since the end of World War II as a result of unforeseen circumstances, this was one of the most serious non-combat incidents in recent years.

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