QUANTICO MARINE BASE, Virginia -- A military judge on Thursday sentenced a Marine Corps major to 90 days in the brig for lying under oath about his sexual relationship with two female midshipmen while serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Maj. Mark Thompson was led out of Lejeune Hall in handcuffs and leg shackles around 8:30 p.m. after pleading guilty to making false official statements and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Thompson's sexual misconduct began in 2011, when he drank, played strip poker and had a threesome with one of the midshipmen and a fellow Marine officer.
He admitted to lying to officers at a 2014 board of inquiry in which he claimed his innocence and was allowed to stay in the Marine Corps. He also admitted to lying to a Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox about his involvement with the women.
Yet the case resurfaced only after an explosive Washington Post investigative story published last year, in which Thompson -- who sought the publicity -- claimed he was unjustly punished in a previous court-martial for the alleged sexual misconduct. That coverage led to the discovery of evidence that showed he lied to the board.
On Thursday, Thompson said he behaved "recklessly."
"I acted recklessly and thoughtlessly for how this could affect the Marine Corps' image," Thompson told the Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Greer, who served as the convening authority for the courts-martial.
Thompson became emotional at times during his statement to the court but admitted that he regretted the decisions he had made.
"I made the choice, and I knew it was wrong," he said.
During the sentencing portion of the trial, the prosecution painted Thompson as a convincing liar who spent years planning the lies he would tell.
"This is not someone who made one or two bad choices," Marine Capt. Connor Lamb argued. "This was someone who had years to plan and then proceed to make false statement after false statement."
A key witness who emerged early in the case was Maj. Mike Pretus, another former Naval Academy instructor who confessed to investigators that he participated in the threesome with Thompson and the midshipman while at the school as a visiting lecturer in 2011.
Pretus was removed from his post as an instructor in April 2016 when an investigation into his own misconduct came to light.
Granted a waiver of immunity, Pretus confessed to lying in Thompson's defense in previous testimony and provided a detailed description of his own illicit encounter. His testimony was played in full at a May 2016 pretrial hearing attended by Military.com.
Pretus also testified that Thompson had been obsessive about trying to clear his name after the 2013 court-martial, in which he received a short brig sentence and a $60,000 fine. It was Thompson who reached out to Cox, the Washington Post reporter, asking that the newspaper publish a story setting the record straight.
The prosecution argued his outreach to the newspaper was part of a well-orchestrated campaign to influence officials to appeal his case -- and possibly secure a book for himself to write about the ordeal, according to emails presented during the trial.
Lt. Col. Kate Germano, a member of the 2014 board of inquiry, testified by phone that Thompson's demeanor during the board "made him look extremely believable and credible."
"He looked us in the eye," Germano said, adding that she "felt very strongly that he was not responsible for what he was being accused of."
After the Post story came out, Germano said she felt that Thompson had betrayed hear and the other officers on the board.
"I feel like my trust was violated," she said. "The board really stuck its neck out for Maj. Thompson."
The defense presented seven character witnesses that portrayed as a good father, a dedicated instructor and as strong leader. As testimony went on, an image emerged of Thompson as a troubled man who had been dealt many hard blows in life.
His first wife, and the mother of his two children, was sent to prison for embezzling thousands of dollars from a relative's business, Thompson said. The couple later divorced. His daughter Morgan was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 at age 11. His fiancé was killed in a car accident. His father committed suicide after a long bout with cancer as well.
Marine Reserve Lt. Col. Charles Burks testified that he first got to know then-Sgt. Thomson when he was one is his squad leaders in a Reserve anti-tank unit in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Burks described Thompson as "very resourceful" and a "great leader."
Donald Wallace, a Naval Academy professor, said he became friends with Thompson because of their shared love of books and exercise. "He was a very strong teacher," Wallace said, describing Thompson as "dedicated."
Wallace said he had tried to advise Thomson not to get caught up in relationships with students, to create "distance" from flirtations in the classroom.
"I wish he had made different choices," Wallace said.
During closing remarks, the defense argued that Thomson had endured "events that would have absolutely broke most people," said Navy Lt. Clay Bridges, who recommended 90 days confinement for Thompson.
The prosecution argued that Thompson broke his oath as a Marine officer.
"No one has the right to lie under oath, no matter what the circumstances," Lamb said, recommending that Thompson serve 18 months in confinement and be dismissed from the Marine Corps.
In addition to 90 days confinement, Greer sentenced Thompson to be dismissed from the Marine Corps, but then suspended the dismissal. Under Thompson's plea agreement, the court agreed to endorse his "request to retire," a decision which will have to be reviewed by the secretary of the Navy, Greer said.
While it's unclear what grade he could retired at, Greer said it could be O-2, "which I believe was the last grade served honorably."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.