Attorney for Ky. sailor charged with setting Navy ship fire says portrayal of client hasn’t been fair

Attorney talks about sailor charged with setting fire to Navy ship
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 10:59 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) -The attorney for a Kentucky sailor accused of setting a fire on a Navy ship says his client is innocent. Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays is from the Ashland area. He was charged over the summer for the July 2020 fire of the USS Bonhomme Richard.

The fire, which burned for days, is marked as one of the worst non-combat warship disasters in recent memory and the vessel had to be scrapped. More than 60 sailors and civilians were injured.

Last week it was reported that Mays will now face a court martial for arson.

“He’s adamant he didn’t do what he’s charged with,” said attorney Gary Barthel.

In a WKYT exclusive interview, Barthel explained his client’s side of the story, something he says hasn’t been fairly portrayed. Family members reached out to WKYT’s Chad Hedrick looking to share Mays’ side of the story.

“I think that the way that the way the case has been portrayed and information that has been provided to the public has not been accurate,” Barthel said. “It hasn’t painted him in a good light. It hasn’t been a fair portrayal.”

Prosecutors say Mays set the fire because he was disgruntled after dropping out of Navy SEAL training. Barthel claims there is no physical evidence connecting him to the blaze. He says prosecutors are banking their case on the testimony of a witness who says they saw Mays around where the fire started.

“He never reported seeing anybody on the day of the fire go down there. It was several days later when he said he saw somebody go down there, but he didn’t recognize who it was. Yet, he knows Mays.”

Barthel says the witness lacks credibility because it is known that he didn’t like Mays.

Another witness says Mays made a seeming confession to igniting it.

In December, Sailor Carissa Tubman testified Mays mumbled “I’m guilty, I guess. I did it,” as he was being led to the brig in August 2020.

Barthel says his client was being sarcastic as he was wrongfully taken into custody.

“Throughout that interview, he denied any participation in setting a fire on the ship, and has consistently denied that. After NCIS and ATF were done interrogating him, they turned him over to the command. The command apparently made the decision that they were going to put him in the brig in pre-trial confinement. Mays was not aware of that.”

Barthel says that story has also been inconsistent, and when they go before a court martial in the coming days, they look forward to proving Mays is innocent. He cites where dozens of Navy officials, including several admirals, have faced disciplinary action for failures that investigators said prevented the blaze from being put out sooner. He went on to say he would argue there is more evidence that the fire was started because of negligence and the improper storage of lithium batteries close to crates of hand sanitizer.

Mays is still an active member of the Navy. His attorney says he reports for duty every day.

Barthel says his client faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.

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