2 cleared Mids fear renewal of charges Inquiry broadens in exam scandal

October 16, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

At least two of the 17 midshipmen exonerated last spring in the electrical engineering cheating scandal at the U.S. Naval Academy are likely to face disciplinary charges once again as a second probe of the scandal widens.

William M. Ferris, a lawyer and 1970 academy graduate, said he has been approached by one exonerated midshipman, who told him he "was certain he was going to get kicked out." Another midshipman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that investigators told him last summer that it is likely the charges against him will come up again.

"They have more information on me. They said I was involved," said the midshipman, a senior.

The possibility of new charges has raised concerns of double jeopardy among the midshipmen's lawyers.

"It's totally contrary to our whole system of justice," Mr. Ferris said. "Could you try a person five times?"

"It's unfair," said Gill Cochran, an Annapolis lawyer retained by the midshipman who spoke with The Sun. "In a criminal situation it would be double jeopardy."

But a Naval Academy spokesman dismissed that suggestion.

"The honor boards are administrative, they're not criminal in nature. The concept of double jeopardy does not apply," Lt. Cmdr. Paul J. Weishaupt said.

Commander Weishaupt added, however, that he is unaware of any precedent for a rehearing on the same charge.

It is uncertain whether those who were cleared in what is becoming the largest cheating scandal in the academy's history would face the same charges or new ones.

A senior Navy official close to the probe said that it is too early for midshipmen to speculate on whether they will face the same or new charges.

"They're very premature. None of that's been determined yet," said the official. "Investigators haven't finished their report. The IG investigators do not charge people, they make recommendations."

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) completed an initial probe of the scandal last spring. The Navy inspector general's office launched its own investigation in June after news reports that not all the suspects had been identified.

The midshipman who asked not to be named said investigators told him that they would "go a lot easier on me if I changed my statement and went along with everyone else they talked to."

"I told them I wasn't going to perjure myself," he said. "I'm almost at home plate now, and they're telling me I might not graduate."

Investigators left him with the impression that other students who were cleared, including a football player who is a member of his company, could face new disciplinary hearings, he said.

"They brought up his name a lot. They said he did this and that," the midshipman said.

Mr. Ferris said that investigators told his client that his classmates "were called in and implicated him."

The academy's 42-year-old honor code states that a midshipman will not "lie, cheat or steal," and violators generally are expelled. Those who are dismissed must serve a hitch in the Navy at enlisted rank or pay back the government for their education, a decision that is left up to the secretary of the Navy.

Juniors usually are required to serve two years, while seniors serve three years. Academy officials were uncertain of the current payback requirement.

Twenty-eight midshipmen were implicated earlier this year in passing around an advance copy Dec. 14 of the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311, nicknamed "wires" and considered one of the academy's toughest required courses.

Honor boards found that 11 should be dismissed, but academy officials later recommended that the Navy secretary separate six, citing a lack of evidence against the others. Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, a 1964 Academy graduate, has postponed a decision until he receives a report on the Navy IG probe.

This was the biggest cheating scandal since 1974, when 61 students were implicated in the use of "crib sheets" in a navigation course exam. Seven were expelled.

Since the IG took over the current case in June, the inquiry into what is turning into the biggest cheating scandal in the history of the academy has widened. At least 125 more midshipmen have been implicated.

The cheating scandal, now 10 months old, has led to suspicions and ill feelings throughout the school, said the midshipman.

"No one's talking to anyone. No one trusts anyone anymore," he said.

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