Letter of Support for Save Our Heroes in Our Shared Quest for Military Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

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October 1, 2016

U.S. House of Representatives
United States Senate
Washington, DC

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a letter of support for Save Our Heroes. We recognized immediately that Save Our Heroes and victims of crimes both want similar changes in the military justice system. Save Our Heroes is asking for three specific legislative/policy changes to restore fundamental fairness in the military justice system:

1. Remove all Commanders authority from decision-making in the legal system.
2. The number of panel members should be increased to 12 for General Courts Martial.
3. Any conviction at Courts Martial shall require a unanimous verdict.

These requests by Save Our Heroes are similar to the overall changes that victims of crimes in the military have lobbied for, specifically that Commanders be removed from the reporting and decision-making process because of fear of bias, lack of investigative training, and the power to discharge and/or punish with the stroke of a pen. Save Our Heroes is requesting the same changes because ultimately both the victims and accused are looking for a military justice system that mirrors the civilian justice system while respecting the need of the Commanding Officer to ensure discipline is maintained within their command. We want a justice system where crimes are reported to legal authorities and not a Commander who is an authority figure with the power to impact your entire life. We want a justice system where crimes will be investigated thoroughly by unbiased military criminal investigative organizations looking for the truth. We want a justice system that provides the same constitutional rights as those provided in the civilian justice system. Save Our Heroes is specifically asking for changes that are commonplace in the civilian justice system, like a jury of twelve of our peers and a unanimous verdict. Our military deserves no less.

Victims of crimes in the military are asking for a military justice system that provides due process for the accuser and the accused. Crime victims want the ability to go to trial based on an independent prosecutor’s decision to charge because there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a case. Crime victims want those people who level false accusations, and engage in other abuses of the process, to be held accountable. While we recognize that false reports represent a small percentage of total reports (between 2-8 percent based on Bureau of Justice Statistics data), those who do falsely accuse are hurting the real victims of these crimes and should be held accountable through the same impartial military justice system. Both the accusers and the accused are asking for due process, which is best accomplished by a system that mirrors the civilian justice system. Currently, Commanders have control of the process when the accused, accuser, defense attorneys, and prosecutors should have control over the process.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Norris, Military Justice for All
Stephanie Schroeder, US Human Rights Network & UN Board Member
Brian Lewis, Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma

Fear Thy Neighbor Premiered ‘Bonfire of Blood’ on Investigation Discovery: Escalating Property Dispute Between Walter Stephens & Bob Hall Turns Deadly (May 25, 2016)

ID Go: An argument about access to a disputed road puts two Lompico, California men at each other’s throats. Things progress from intimidation and property damage to a backhoe attack and, finally, one of the most shocking murders the area has ever seen. -Bonfire of Blood, Fear Thy Neighbor (S3, E9)

Coast Guard veteran Walter Stephens shot and killed Bob Hall in Lompico, California on November 20, 1998. After killing Bob, Walt burned and attempted to hide his body in a bonfire on his property. Bob’s co-workers grew concerned when Bob didn’t show up for his retirement party at work. They called the police and asked them to do a welfare check on Bob. In the course of the investigation, police learned from family members that if anything happened to Bob, they needed to talk to his neighbor Walter Stephens. Bob and Walter had been in a long standing neighborhood feud with one another over a property issue. When police went to visit Walter at his home, they found him tending a large fire. They questioned Walter about Bob’s disappearance but he denied having any knowledge or information useful to the missing persons investigation. Upon closer examination of the bonfire, the police observed what appeared to be human remains in the fire. Walter admitted to killing Bob and he was arrested.

Fellow neighbors always thought it would be the other way around, that Bob would kill Walter. Some believe Walter finally snapped. Bob’s family believed it was first degree murder. Facing a possible death sentence, Walter pleaded self-defense but the prosecutors believed otherwise after the forensic evidence was examined. Walter said he thought Bob had a weapon when he approached him late one night on his property but his gun told another story. Walter pistol whipped Bob with his gun and then shot him while he was helpless and down on the ground. Prosecutors argued it wasn’t self-defense, it was straight up murder. They believed Walter started that confrontation with Bob that night with the intent to kill. Walter Stephens was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for second degree murder. He got 14 years for the murder and another 25 years for use of weapon. Bob’s bones were burned and mostly disintegrated and his body was not recognizable. Detectives believe that had the police not discovered Bob’s remains in the fire, Walter Stephens may have got away with it.

Source: ‘Bonfire of Blood’ Fear Thy Neighbor

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Bob Hall v Walter Stephens | Superior Court of California (1998)
Missing Man’s Body Found in Brushfire
Man held as suspect in neighbor’s murder
Stephens v. Tilton | United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (Jul 11, 2007)
Bonfire of Blood | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (S3, E9)

A Stranger in My Home Premiered ‘Roommate from Hell’ on Investigation Discovery: Jeffrey Wheatley (December 15, 2013)


When Jeffrey Wheatley moves to Stockton, California he sees it as a second chance. His friend Drew offers him a room in a house that he shares with Valerie Nessler. But soon, the house will be the setting of the most brutal murder the town has ever seen. -A Stranger in My Home, Investigation Discovery

Coast Guard veteran Jeffrey Wheatley was discovered dead in what appeared to be a house fire in his Stockton, California home on April 7, 2010. After a closer examination, investigators learned that Jeffrey was shot, stabbed, and burned alive. The motive appeared to be revenge. Roommate Valerie Nessler claims Jeffrey admitted to killing someone in 1994 which was the same year her friend Robert Turner’s brother was murdered. Valerie Nessler was found guilty of arson and first degree murder for her role and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. Robert Turner was found guilty of arson and first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. And Allen Periman was found guilty of second degree murder for his role in the homicide.

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Arrest in slaying, burning of corpse
Woman guilty of roommate murder
‘This is what I have left of my brother’
People v. Periman (2014)
People v. Turner (2015)
About the Show | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery
A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (website)
‘Roommate from Hell’ | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (website)
‘Roommate from Hell’ | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (YouTube)

Amy Ignatowski, US Coast Guard, Strangled in Apartment by Micah Spanutius in Corpus Christi, Texas (2008)

Amy Ignatowski, USCG (2008)

Amy Ignatowski, US Coast Guard

Petty Officer 3rd Class Amy Ignatowski, US Coast Guard, was murdered on May 31, 2008 in her apartment by Micah Spanutius in Corpus Christi, Texas. Spanutius was sentenced to 30 years for the strangling death of Amy Ignatowski.

Related Links:
Funeral Tuesday for slain Soo Coast Guard mechanic
Man held in U.P. woman’s death
Texas man held in connection with Soo woman’s death
Man accused in Coast Guard woman’s death indicted
Jury begins deliberating in Spanutius murder trial
Ignatowski murder case ends in mistrial
Jurors sentence man to 30 years in killing of Coast Guard member
Ignatowski Award recognizes a Coast Guard legacy
Fifth Ignatowski Award keeps a Coast Guard legacy alive
Silencing A Lamb. Female CG Petty Officer Slain