The former commander of the Marines' Wounded Warrior Regiment will do jail time in a case centered around a downward spiral of misconduct that his defense attorneys attributed to severe combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Col. T. Shane Tomko, 53, was sentenced to two months and a $20,000 fine, which was suspended to $10,000 after pleading guilty Friday to conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and violation of a lawful general order.
He admitted to sending inappropriate and sexual messages to a female corporal under his command at the Wounded Warrior Regiment, violating a series of military protective orders imposed on him by his command at Quantico, and appearing at a May 6 arraignment intoxicated with a .208 blood alcohol level, and driving under the influence. He also acknowledged the illegal use of prescription testosterone, which his defense attorneys said he needed and was later legally prescribed.
The May 6 appearance resulted in Tomko being ordered to the brig to await his trial; his 21 days of pretrial confinement will be counted against his sentence.
"Be well, and take care of yourself," Military Judge Col. Pete Rubin told Tomko, as he read the sentence.
Tomko will serve his sentence at Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, Virginia, where prosecuting attorneys said he could receive mental health treatment at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Hospital. He was permitted to remain on active duty.
In keeping with a pretrial agreement, more serious charges including abusive sexual contact and fraternization were withdrawn and all but $10,000 of his fine was suspended. He will also request retirement according to the agreement.
Witnesses who testified in Tomko's defense, including four generals, used phrases like "meltdown," "sudden decline" and "come off the rails" to describe the change they had observed in him over the 18 months, beginning prior to his relief from the Wounded Warrior Regiment due to loss of confidence in his ability to command.
Tomko, who was visibly holding back tears for much of the proceedings, spoke on his own behalf through sobs, struggling to remain coherent as he addressed his statement to his wife, Marine Lt. Col. Liza Tomko, who was present in the gallery.
"I can't tell you the number of times in my life I've been told I needed to get help, but how could I?" Tomko said. "The only thing I knew how to do was work hard."
Tomko spoke of a 33-year Marine Corps career with repeated combat deployments, including one as the commander of Kilo company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, as well as command tours in which he had to send young Marines off to war, sometimes never to return. Thirteen times, he said, he had to inform parents that their child had been lost to combat.
"It's not like you can get home from the office and say, 'I had a good trial,' or 'I did a lot of paperwork today,'" Tomko said. "I got home from the office, and, I killed a bunch of people today."
Tomko's character witnesses included Julie Vinnedge, whose son, Lance Cpl. Philip Vinnedge, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2010. Tomko delivered the news to Julie Vinnedge at her home near St. Louis, Missouri, she said, and remained a constant presence in her life to assist her with her grief.
Asked to describe her idea of good military character, Vinnedge said, "Semper Fidelis. Always faithful, loyal. Col. Shane Tomko. That man right there is what I'd call a Marine."
But Tomko's distinguished career and his diagnosed post-traumatic stress was not an excuse for his misconduct, government attorneys said. They emphasized that Tomko had received full-time, and sometimes inpatient, mental health treatment since late 2014.
Col. Peter Houtz, the lead prosecutor, said Tomko suffered from "Bathsheba syndrome," referring to the fall from grace of the biblical King David. After sending inappropriate text messages to subordinates, Houtz said, Tomko had reached out to those subordinates in violation of a military protective order to ask them to destroy the evidence. Tomko's spiral of misconduct that resulted in protective orders, then restriction, then ultimately an order to the brig, was a result of losing control over his situation, Houtz said.
"This continued misconduct … we did everything we could to address it, and it didn't work," Houtz said.
Tomko's defense attorney, Maj. Geoff Shows, said after the trial that he wasn't satisfied with the sentence.
"The Marine Corps got this one wrong," he said.
Shows said he wasn't sure if Tomko would appeal the case.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.