Navy Chaplain Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison at Court-Martial

Associated Press, carried in Daily Press
December 6, 2007,0,3098823.story

QUANTICO, Va. - An HIV-positive Navy chaplain was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday after admitting he had sex with an Air Force officer without disclosing he had the virus and that he forced himself on a Naval Academy midshipman.

Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Lee, 42, of Burke, Va., pleaded guilty to forcible sodomy with the midshipman, aggravated assault on the Air Force officer and other crimes after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors at a court-martial at Quantico Marine Corps Base, south of Washington.

The plea agreement limits his time in the brig to two years provided he complies with all conditions of the deal. One condition is a requirement that he inform medical authorities within the next 30 days of all his sexual contacts since learning in 2005 that he has the AIDS virus.

Lee said during the hearing that he would provide information "on every contact that I can remember."

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Candice Tresch said active duty sailors are tested for HIV about every two years. Lee admitted in the hearing that after his diagnosis, Navy doctors talked to him about the risks of sexual contact and the need to inform potential partners of his HIV status.

Lee, a Catholic priest, was assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy from 2003 to 2006 and later to Quantico. His previous assignments include Camp Pendleton in California, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Pearl Harbor and Italy.

In December 2006, Lee admitted that he had sex with an Air Force lieutenant colonel at the colonel's home in Fairfax. Lee said he met the man on the Internet and lied when directly questioned about his HIV status.

"I said everything was OK," Lee told the judge.

Marine spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe said after Thursday's hearing that nobody is known to have actually contracted HIV from Lee.

Because the sexual contact included a risk of grave physical danger or death due to Lee's HIV status, it is considered an aggravated assault under military law.

The forcible sodomy with the midshipman occurred in the fall of 2004, when the midshipman was in his junior year, and before Lee was diagnosed with the HIV virus. The midshipman, who was not identified, testified in the trial's sentencing phase that he did not physically resist when Lee performed oral sex on him because he was intimidated by Lee's status as a chaplain.

"This was a priest. This was a guy who knew all of my darkest secrets," the victim, now a Navy ensign, said on the witness stand. He had previously received counseling from Lee.

The midshipman testified that he told Lee "I didn't want it. He said, 'It's all right, it's all right,"' and continued the assault.

In addition to forcible sodomy, Lee pleaded guilty to consensual sodomy, violating a lawful order, committing an indecent act, fraternization and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Navy authorities launched an investigation earlier this year after receiving a complaint from a Marine corporal at Quantico. The corporal, who has since left the Marines, said he sought counseling from the chaplain, who quickly steered conversations to sex acts. He eventually persuaded the corporal to take pornographic pictures of Lee.

"I didn't feel comfortable speaking to the chain of command," the corporal said when asked why he sought counseling from Lee. "He's the chaplain. He's the person you talk to when you can't talk to anybody else."

Lee looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact with the witnesses during their testimony.

"I'd like to apologize for all the harm I have done," Lee said in a brief statement to the judge before he was sentenced.

Lee's voice occasionally broke when military judge Marine Col. Steve Day asked him to explain his conduct in sometimes agonizing detail.

Lee admitted he knew his senior rank could prove intimidating to the people he was pressuring for sex.

"I asked him numerous times and told him it would be just this one time, and that I was the lieutenant commander and he was the corporal," Lee said of his efforts to persuade the corporal to take pornographic pictures of him.

Lee was ordained as a priest in 1993 and began serving as a military chaplain in 1996, said Julia Rota, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of the Military Services, which oversees Catholic priests in the military. His faculties to function as a priest were revoked in June, after an accuser came forward, Rota said.

Lee was commissioned as an officer in 1988, according to military records, which list his hometown as Phoenixville, Pa. He was relieved of his duties in June and was taken to the brig in handcuffs and leg irons after Thursday's hearing.

Under the consensual sodomy charge, Lee admitted a long-term sexual relationship with a Navy ensign who lived with him for the last year in his Burke home. Lee said he knew the ensign for about five years, before he was a sailor, and persuaded him to enlist in the Navy.

Tresch said it would be up to the ensign's local command authorities to decide whether to pursue consensual sodomy charges against the ensign.


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