Attorneys seek to resolve USS Miami fire case before a trial

By Jim Haddadin, Foster's Daily Democrat (MCT)
Posted Aug. 15, 2012, at 7:47 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The criminal case against a man accused of setting fire to a nuclear submarine docked at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard could be resolved before it goes to trial, according to the defendant’s attorney.

In court documents filed Tuesday, public defender David Beneman indicated he and the prosecutor assigned to the case have been meeting to discuss a “potential resolution” that would avoid the need for a grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors say the 24-year-old defendant, Casey James Fury, has confessed to setting a fire in May that ravaged the forward area of the USS Miami, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine.

Investigators say Fury has also confessed to lighting a second fire underneath the same ship on June 16.

U.S. Navy investigators claim Fury, a civilian painter and sandblaster, set both fires in order to leave work early. Fury had been assigned to work on the Miami while it was undergoing an overhaul at the shipyard.

Fury was arrested in July, following an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He was ordered held without bail as he awaits a grand jury indictment.

Under federal law, prosecutors were previously required to seek an indictment by Aug. 22. Beneman asked a federal judge to extend that timetable this week in order to allow experts to review the evidence in the case. The motion was granted by a federal judge, with the consent of Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, pushing the date by which an indictment must occur to Sept. 26.

In a motion filed in federal court in Portland, Beneman explained that foregoing the indictment could ultimately save “substantial national resources extending beyond just court resources.”

More than 100 firefighters helped to extinguish the May 23 fire on the Miami, which continued to burn for approximately 12 hours. The fire caused an estimated $400 million worth of damage. Seven firefighters also suffered minor injuries during the event.

Prosecutors say Fury initially denied any involvement, but eventually confessed while undergoing a polygraph test. Fury then led Navy investigators on a walk-through of the USS Pasadena, another submarine stationed at the shipyard with a similar layout to the Miami, and demonstrated how he allegedly set fire to the ship, according to court documents.

The scope of the damage to the Miami, coupled with the statements made during Fury’s alleged videotaped confession, have led Beneman to retain “one or more forensic experts,” according to court documents. At least one of those experts has reviewed a portion of Fury’s taped confession, as well as records about Fury’s background compiled by prosecutors.

It’s expected that “several additional meetings with the defendant” and unspecified “testing” will be required for the expert to offer a professional opinion to Fury’s defense attorney.

“Given the complexity of the forensic and evidentiary issues involved, and … particularly the need for a full expert evaluation of the defendant before a determination can be made on resolution pre-indictment, the defense needs additional time to complete the expert evaluation,” Beneman wrote.

Beneman declined to comment on his request for a delay when he was contacted by phone Tuesday.

“In a pending case, I’m not allowed to discuss any aspect of the case,” he said.

McElwee also declined to comment on the potential “resolution” Beneman alluded to in court documents. She confirmed prosecutors are still preparing to bring the case to trial.

“I can’t comment on anything that isn’t public record,” she said.

© 2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat

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