To him, the accusers were disastrous witnesses, he told me. Again and again, his attorneys hammered on those inconsistencies, an issue prosecutors blamed on the passage of time. The defense portrayed the women as habitual liars who had colluded to craft a grand fabrication.
Five times during his opening statement, Marine Maj. Joseph Grimm called Thompson a victim. It was hard to understand, however, why two women with so much to lose would have concocted such a harmful — and, for them, shameful — falsehood.
She then recounted feeling Thompson penetrate her, throwing up afterward and stumbling back to her dorm room. Stadler had to go even further, not just detailing that night, but also her other alleged liaisons with Thompson: Sarah Stadler Still, Thompson maintained that they had conspired against him, and he offered me his theory of why during a meeting at a Starbucks.
Thompson said he suspected that after she stopped by his home that evening to use the bathroom, the woman had hooked up with another man in her same company — despite an academy rule that prohibited such students from dating. When the ex-boyfriend confronted her, Thompson conjectured, she made up the story about him, then persuaded Stadler to back her up. His contention sounded like a stretch. Why would the women have stuck to their stories for so long, even suffering through the humiliation of a public trial?
Why would they have targeted Thompson, an officer who — even he acknowledged — had served as their mentor? Why, if Stadler was just playing along to cover for her friend, would she have described such a long and intimate relationship that had nothing to do with that friend? Then again, Thompson bore no burden of proof; prosecutors did. She texted Thompson often, Waters said, and called at inappropriate times. At least three witnesses, including two classmates, described her to jurors as untrustworthy.
His attorneys also discovered Stadler had failed to mention that, after seeing Thompson on the night of the croquet match, she met up with another student whom she kissed at a bar. Stadler claimed to have been so drunk she forgot about the episode. Still, that revelation was not the most serious blow to her reliability. After leaving the academy, she had a relationship prohibited by military rules with an enlisted sailor, then lied about it under oath.
She later told the truth when confronted with proof, but the incident still led to her dismissal from the Navy in Her mother and teenage brother were awake when she left, Stadler told investigators, adding that her sibling remained up around midnight after she returned from having sex with Thompson a final time. Phil Hamon, argued in court. Waters told jurors she had picked Thompson up from the airport around 8: The couple then drove to his home, she said, where they shared wine and chocolate.
Another student Thompson mentored told the court he stopped by between 9: Not once that night, Waters testified, did she leave her boyfriend. But none of it mattered. The decision required only a two-thirds majority, which left Thompson wondering if the officers had reached a unanimous conclusion.
Maybe those two Marines, he told me, had sided with him. I reached one of the Marines, who would not discuss the case unless I promised not to name him. Why did the Marine believe Thompson was guilty? On June 3, , the jury gave Thompson just two months. Moments after their decision was announced, a pair of armed guards flanked him in the courtroom. Dressed in his service uniform, the Marine major was escorted out. Soon, he was loaded into a van and driven more than miles south to Chesapeake, Va.
Chapter five Thompson at the Naval Academy earlier this year. He spent the first week in solitary confinement, doing push-ups, reading books and obsessing over how badly he believed naval investigators had mishandled his case. Among the alleged missteps eventually cited by him, his attorneys or his appeal: When he walked out of the brig in the summer of , Thompson was focused on vindication, but his future remained in doubt.
He had no idea whether he would stay a Marine. It was up to the board of inquiry. His guilt had already been decided at the court-martial.
In a stunning decision, its members disregarded their instructions to assume Thompson was guilty, declaring in a 2-to-1 vote that he had committed no crimes whatsoever. All three agreed that he should remain a Marine. As they announced the ruling in a small, stifling room in Quantico, Va. That night, Thompson joined his girlfriend, Cristina Waters, and their friends to celebrate with beers, bourbon and steak at a Maryland pub.
A month after the hearing, Maj. The slew of sexual assault allegations erupting in the military infuriated him. He wound up in paperwork-heavy administrative jobs instead of intelligence-related work.
Mark Thompson He eventually approached The Post, too. From our very first meeting at the hotel bar, Thompson told me repeatedly what he believed was the key to his exoneration: At the board of inquiry, one member asked Rugh how the government had proved Thompson and Stadler saw each other after her graduation ceremony. On the evening of Jan. I introduced myself as a Washington Post reporter and told her I was working on a story about the case involving her daughter and Maj.
What about her son, John Dumbauld, whom Rugh specifically said investigators had questioned? She put him on the phone. I had always planned to ask for an interview, but I never expected her to answer any of my questions. During the court-martial, Stadler made it clear how painful the media coverage had been for her. Now, three years after the trial, with her military career destroyed, she had asked for a reporter to call her? Struggling to explain the questionable text messages she exchanged with the other accuser.
Claiming to not remember meeting another man at a bar after the alleged threesome. Lying about her relationship with the enlisted sailor. Yet Stadler insisted she was being honest about Thompson. She offered me a simple defense of her testimony: Why would anyone have suffered through the disgrace of publicly describing their illicit relationship if it had never happened?
Stadler told me she initially lied about her relationship with the sailor because of what she experienced after telling the truth about Thompson. Neither had her fellow accuser, who resents that he will retire with the same distinguished title — Marine — that she has today.
Before he betrayed her, the woman said in an interview, she considered Thompson to be a mentor. She told me she would think about it. An hour later, Stadler called back. Discussing the case again, she told me, had made her think about her old cellphone. What if, somehow, it had survived? She immediately hunted through a collection of plastic moving crates, and within one she found a small tin box. And there, inside it, she discovered a phone with a bright yellow case and a cracked screen.
Stadler rushed to her computer to plug it in. She doubted it would work, and even if it did, what could she possibly salvage from it? Thompson, she said, always insisted that she delete any sexually explicit messages. Then, suddenly, beneath the web of fractures, her screen glowed. Stadler holding her old cellphone, showing a text conversation with Thompson.
She asked that her face not be shown. Then she photographed dozens of the messages and sent them to me. Thompson was right — and the texts proved it. I just left to get food with my mom.
Too late for you?