Gut-Wrenching Letter Questions Legitimacy of Military Justice System

The text of the letter below was recently published at the Save Our Heroes facebook page and deserves a broader transmission. As you read through this letter, think about the fact that the author served as an Army JAG for 20 years. Think about how he now feels about a system he spent much of his adult life serving.

Consider also that the man convicted in this case was once a relatively senior Army prosecutor who had at times defied pressure placed on him to pursue sex crime cases. You don’t need a slide rule to figure out why the Army might have been anxious to seize on an opportunity to send him to prison. Whether or not he actually did anything wrong is irrelevant to jackals who feed at the trough of bureaucratic fealty, many of whom wear stars.

The military services’ justice systems have been warped by political pressure and can no longer be trusted. Until they are wholly separated from the chain of command and forced to respect fundamental protections for the accused, they are undeserving of public confidence.

No matter how you feel about the case of MAJ Erik J. Burris, this letter is powerful and relevant, and deserves your attention.

“I (William E. Cassara) was one of three of MAJ Burris’ defense counsel and the lone civilian. My background is more than 20 years in the active and reserve Army JAG Corps, and over 25 years representing military members as a civilian defense counsel. This is the first time, to my recollection, that I have written a clemency letter on behalf of a client. Then again, this is the first time that I have been 100% convinced that an innocent client of mine has gone to prison.

“Respectfully, this case is everything that is currently wrong with the military justice system. A case that never should have gone to trial in the first place, has ended with an innocent man sentenced to 20 years confinement based in large part on the allegations of a vindictive ex-wife whose testimony was so outlandish and fanciful as to lead the Article 32 investigating officer (a female Army 0-5 Judge Advocate) to conclude the woman was a habitual liar whose testimony should not be believed.

“I have racked my head to try and figure out how this happened. I have second-guessed every single decision we on the defense team made, And I still don’t know. I simply don’t know how an innocent man goes to jail on allegations so absurd and patently false. I don’t know how a convening authority and SJA ignore the well-reasoned decision of an Article 32 officer to not refer the case to trial. I don’t know how a panel of officers doesn’t see through this charade of a court-martial and come to the only logical conclusion – acquittal. I don’t know how a prosecutor fails to disclose clearly exculpatory evidence in the middle of a trial. I don’t know how we, as a defense team, failed. And mostly, I don’t know how anybody gets any satisfaction out of this result. While the prosecutors were ‘high-fiving’ themselves, an innocent man was put behind bars.

“As if the above weren’t awful enough, having gotten to know Erik Burris the man, I can attest that he is a kind, compassionate, and decent man. A man who dedicated his life to an Army so willing to toss him on the trash heap. A man who did everything he was asked to do for his country, and whose country turned its back on him. A man whose family and children love him because they know the truth.

“I will never forget sitting in a room with MAJ Burris after the panel announced the findings and watching this grown man in a fetal position, crying and proclaiming his innocence, I will never forget the sight of his family in stunned disbelief at this horrible miscarriage of justice. I will never forget the conversations I had with numerous members of the JAG Corps proclaiming that this was the end of their military careers, as they could no longer support a system that would allow such a thing to happen. To say that MAJ Burris did not get a fair trial is the understatement of the century.”

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