WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- A military appeals court says it is concerned strong comments about rape by the commandant of the U.S. Marines may affect sentencing in sexual assault trials.
In a series of speeches last year, Gen. James F. Amos, the Corps' commandant, repeatedly called for stiff punishment for Marines charged with rape, and rejected suggestions some assault allegations weren't true, McClatchy Newspapers reported Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S.-Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in which they considered if Amos' comments could affect sentencing in one case now on appeal and future cases.
"He did comment on specific punishments, and he said he thought Marines were being too soft on those convicted of sexual assault," Judge Jeffrey A. Fischer said of Amos. "Would not a reasonable member of the public call into question all of our courts-martial, hearing that?"
Lower courts have ruled in other cases the commandant's speeches constituted unlawful command influence.
Whatever the Court of Criminal Appeals decides could shape the fate of former Sgt. Roger E. Easterly. Convicted last year of assault and adultery while stationed at Marine Air Station Beaufort, S.C., he has since been released from the brig and is living as a civilian with a bad conduct discharge. He has appealed his sentence, so the terms of his discharge could be adjusted.
The court's ruling also will guide future Marine Corps courts-martial in cases of rape or adultery.