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Base master sergeant found not guilty in court martial

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE - After two hours of deliberation, late Tuesday afternoon the jury in the special court martial here of Master Sgt. Lisa Mashburn declared her not guilty of dereliction of duty.

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE - After two hours of deliberation, late Tuesday afternoon the jury in the special court martial here of Master Sgt. Lisa Mashburn declared her not guilty of dereliction of duty.

"I'm ecstatic. I'm happy," said Mashburn after exchanging hugs and some tears with her mother, step-father, friends and colleagues in the court room after the two-day trial.

Air Force prosecutors had charged her with negligence after the investigation into the Aug. 6 suicide of Airman Cory McCord revealed lax security measures in the Base Defense Operations Center, or "B-DOC," where Mashburn was a flight chief.

Maj. Blake Williams, lead prosecutor for the Air Force, was terse after the verdict was announced, giving reporters only a brief comment.

"The process worked and justice was done," he said.


Williams, from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, was assisted by Capt. Valerie Nolan of the Grand Forks base.

Guy Womack, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel from Houston who defended Mashburn, said afterward: "This proves the military justice system works. The Air Force did everything right by bringing this to trial."

He said Mashburn had turned down a non-judicial punishment in the matter because she didn't trust she would get a fair hearing and demanded a court martial.

"Master Sgt. Mashburn is a credit to the Air Force and she can now continue her outstanding career," Womack said.

Mashburn hired Womack, an expert defender in military cases; Air Force rules say a civilian attorney can't cost the Air Force anything.

She also had the services, at Air Force expense, of Air Force Capt. Bronson Malcom of Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, S.D.

This case, of a supervisor getting blamed for events leading to the suicide of an airman, is unique, Womack said.

"I've never seen this kind of case in my 30 years," Womack said after the trial. He said he wasn't sure why the Air Force brought the case against Mashburn alone.


Both prosecution and defense witnesses testified that official procedures for keeping security doors closed, visitors escorted and logged into the operations center, and guns officially secured per regulation were widely disregarded for years.

The "B-DOC," inside a larger Building 103, is supposed to be tightly controlled and contains the base's law enforcement and military security police operations, all alarms and police dispatch, as well as an unused jail cell. Mashburn was assistant flight chief for the Alpha Flight, or the regular day shift; and often was in charge during those shifts.

The charge against her stemmed from the investigation into the Aug. 6 suicide of McCord in the "B-DOC," called by a prosecutor the base's "nerve center."

McCord grabbed another security officer's unattended gun and shot himself in front of several colleagues. He was facing a court martial himself on charges of rape, assault and drug use, and was no longer allowed to carry a gun, despite being a security policeman; instead, he cleaned the B-DOC building. He was was supposed to be under the control of officers, but, using the excuse of a restroom break, slipped away to the control desk and obtained the handgun.

That day, Aug. 6, Mashburn had been ordered by a superior to check on another airman taken to the base medical center. While there she spotted McCord leaving, thought he probably had something to do with the airman being ill - perhaps from drugs; she called back to B-DOC and ordered an airman to make sure McCord was detained until she got back.

That was done, but McCord escaped custody, grabbed a handgun in the supposedly secure area behind the B-DOC control desk and shot himself in the head. Mashburn had returned to the building about the time of the shooting and was there as McCord was "gasping," in his dying moments, according to court testimony.

Mashburn was the only female flight chief among eight flight chiefs, who are master sergeants in charge of the Base Defense Operations Center,or "B-DOC," during any given shift. And she was the least experienced, beginning in April, Womack said.

"If you say that she did something wrong, then all her fellow flight sergeants are guilty of doing the exact same thing. They should be sitting here as well."


Mashburn, 35, is a 15-year veteran of the Air Force.

She now is considered fully re-instated to her previous duty as assistant flight chief in the "B-DOC," the Base Defense Operations Center, said Malcom.

Mashburn's duties had been re-assigned after the Aug. 6 suicide of McCord.

The charge against her of dereliction of duty was the military equivalent of a misdemeanor, but could have ruined her career in the Air Force if she had been convicted. The maximum penalty for the charge is three months confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds pay for three months and being busted down to airman basic, the lowest rank, a base spokesman said.

She said Tuesday she's ready to go back to work "at 7:30 in the morning."

The jury of nine included four officers and five enlisted personnel, all sergeants not lower in rank to Mashburn. A special court martial requires not a unanimous verdict for guilty, but a two-thirds majority, or in this case, six votes. The vote count is not disclosed in court martials, whatever the verdict, said Military Judge J. Wesley Moore.

Another difference between a civilian criminal court jury and a court martial panel is that jurors can ask questions of witnesses.

Several jurors asked a dozen or more questions, all written and submitted to the judge and attorneys from both sides for possible objections, before being read to witnesses by the judge.


The prosecution called five witnesses Monday; the defense called three Tuesday morning.

After Monday morning was spent selecting a jury of nine, after 12 were interviewed, the prosecution called its witnesses Monday afternoon.

The defense called its witnesses Tuesday morning.

The jury began deliberations at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and two hours later court officials said a decision had been reached. At about 5:25 p.m., the jury announced the verdict of not guilty.

Family and friends of Mashburn began clapping, her mother weeping and smiling.

The case received national attention, said Scott Fontaine, reporter for the Air Force Times, who braved blizzard conditions to cover the two-day court martial, because it appears to be the first case of an airman's suicide leading to the prosecution of a supervisor.

The Air Force Times, a weekly based near Washington and owned by Gannett, is independent of the military.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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