An Army staff sergeant previously convicted in a court-martial of assault will have his guilty finding set aside and his case heard again after the judge overseeing his trial was found to be engaged in a “personal and emotionally intimate relationship” with the wife of the lead prosecutor.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Henry, a military judge at Fort Benning, Georgia, was “certainly disqualified” from the trial because of an inappropriate relationship he had with the wife of a judge advocate prosecuting the case, according to a unanimous opinion by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
“It is clear that a reasonable person might conclude the military judge was not impartial considering that he and the wife of the prosecuting attorney texted at all hours of the night, visited with each other in the courthouse and elsewhere, including during deliberations in the appellant’s case and were described as best friends,” the appeals court opinion reads.
Staff Sgt. Tony S. Springer was convicted by a general court-martial in December 2017 of two specifications of assault consummated by a battery, and sentenced to confinement for 90 days, reduction in rank to E-4 and a bad-conduct discharge.
But during Springer’s trial, a precarious relationship was forming.
Henry regularly texted and emailed with the wife of the lead prosecutor in the case — identified in the court’s opinion as Mrs. KC and Capt. AC, respectively. Henry advised Mrs. KC not to share the contents of their messages with her husband when he grew suspicious of their relationship, telling her that it would be inappropriate because of their legal responsibilities.
The opinion does not state whether the relationship was sexual. Instead, it describes texting between Henry and Mrs. KC that “went well into the night” and messages that were “supposed to be secret” from both Capt. AC and Henry’s own wife.
Henry and Mrs. KC began attending yoga classes alone on Saturday mornings in January 2018. This later increased to include one or two weekday sessions and the pair would often spend time after these sessions at restaurants, according to an investigation’s findings. Henry also began allowing Mrs. KC to use the courthouse deliberation room to study for her master’s degree, meeting her there during weeknights and on Sunday afternoons to let her in.
Capt. AC grew suspicious of the relationship. Following a confrontation on April 4, 2018, in which Capt. AC accused his wife of having an affair, Mrs. KC deleted all the messages between her and Henry.
Days later, Capt. AC contacted his state bar ethics hotline and was told to report the conduct to his chain of command, triggering Henry’s removal from the bench in April 2018.
“Judicial misconduct with the spouse of a party to the case during trial erodes public confidence in the judiciary and the military justice system,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Here, beyond having ‘a personal and emotionally intimate’ relationship with Mrs. KC outside of the courtroom, Mrs. KC also spent over an hour privately with LTC Henry in his chambers during the panel’s deliberation on findings.”
Henry likely knew that the relationship was inappropriate, the appeals court said, and he should have recused himself or disclosed the full details of his relationship with Mrs. KC so the parties could determine whether they would waive his disqualification.
“There is no question that having the prosecutor’s wife visit with the military judge in private while the panel was deliberating is a serious departure from the conduct expected of a military judge,” the opinion reads. “Accordingly, the only way to remedy LTC Henry’s failure to disqualify himself in this case is to set aside the findings and the sentence and authorize a rehearing."
A social media account associated with Henry did not reply to a request for comment on Wednesday. A LinkedIn account that matches his full name and credentials states that he left the Army in October 2019 and now works as a senior manager for Walmart.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer