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Navy sailor found not guilty of setting fire that destroyed ship

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A sailor accused by the Navy of setting fire to and destroying an amphibious assault ship was acquitted Friday by a military judge.

Ryan Sawyer Mays, 21, was found not guilty by Capt. Derek Butler of starting the fire that destroyed the $1.2 billion USS Bonhomme Richard.

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"I am so grateful that this is finally over. It's been a long two years," Mays said outside the court building, flanked by his wife, parents and defense team, according to USNI News. "I've been waiting a long time."

The Navy had accused Mays of starting the fire because he was angry at being dropped from the training course to become a Navy SEAL.

RELATED Navy sailor faces court martial for blaze that destroyed USS Bonhomme Richard

In 2020 Mays was confined for three months, but was released without being charged. In July 2021, the Navy formally charged him.

Defense attorneys argued that the Navy's investigation failed to present any specific strong physical or forensic evidence that Mays was in the deck at the time and had set the fire.

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"Seaman Mays' life has been put on hold," Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, the lead defense attorney, said Thursday morning during closing statements. The sailor who claimed to have seen Mays in the Lower V "is the only evidence the government has ... if there's even an arsonist to begin with."

RELATED Junior sailor charged in USS Bonhomme Richard fire to appear in court

After the verdict came down, Mays said that the past two years had been the most difficult in his entire life.

"I've lost time with friends. I've lost friends," Mays said. "I've lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined. I'm looking forward to starting over."

"I'm thankful for the judge that heard the evidence and cleared my name," he added. "And thank you to those of the media who tried to tell my team story. You don't understand how grateful I truly am."

RELATED Report finds USS Bonhomme Richard crew lacked training to combat 2020 fire

The USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire on July 12, 2020, in San Diego, and more than 60 people suffered minor injuries. Left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage, the ship was decommissioned on April 15, 2021, and sold for scrap.

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