A Virginia Beach Marine whose legal case drew national attention because of its centering of mental health and sexual assault issues has been released after almost a year in pretrial confinement.
Under a plea agreement finalized last week, the Marine Corps dropped an attempted murder charge against 27-year-old Cpl. Thae Ohu that stemmed from a domestic incident last April in Virginia Beach. She was released from the Navy brig in Chesapeake where she’d been held since June.
Ohu, an administrative specialist at Dam Neck Naval Base, pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including aggravated assault on an intimate partner with a dangerous weapon, a Marine Corps spokesman confirmed in an email. She was sentenced to the 328 days she already served and is awaiting word from military officials on a bad conduct discharge that would threaten her medical benefits.
Over the past year, Ohu’s family publicly pleaded for her to be released into mental health treatment. They say the April incident was the result of a psychological break and that she’s suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues following a 2015 sexual assault by a Marine superior while stationed in Japan.
After first being reported by The Virginian-Pilot last summer, Ohu’s story was shared in advocacy circles as emblematic of broader issues with how the military treats sexual assault victims. A Facebook page called Justice For Thae Ohu gained more than 8,000 followers and an online fundraiser set up for her legal and medical fees raised nearly $20,000. Supporters have held rallies on her behalf in Washington, D.C., and her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Ohu’s recent legal conundrum began April 5 of last year. That’s when Ohu attacked her boyfriend, Marine prosecutors have said.
In a court hearing at Naval Station Norfolk last summer, military officials laid out what they say happened: Ohu entered the home of her then-boyfriend, fellow Marine Michael Hinesley, with a key, screaming threats laced with profanities. She then grabbed a knife and repeatedly stabbed a door behind which Hinesley stood, they said. He was not harmed.
Ohu was taken to an inpatient facility and released a few days later with an order to stay away from Hinesley, but eventually arrested and taken to the Chesapeake brig when she showed up at his house again.
Throughout the ensuing military judicial process, Hinesley — the victim in the case — pleaded with Marine Corps officials to drop the charges against Ohu, saying her actions were the result of serious mental health struggles stemming from the 2015 assault.
“I have always been her advocate,” Hinesley wrote in a recent statement to the court posted on the Justice for Thae Ohu website run by her family. “From the very beginning I pleaded to her Commanding Officer for Thae’s care and I tried to help him understand that this was not her fault and she is a victim too that needs intervention, not jail time. … Corporal Ohu deserves grace, compassion and understanding NOT conviction. … Corporal Ohu is a good Marine but an injured one.”
He also wrote in the statement that military prosecutors had never asked him to confirm what happened that night.
Ohu could not be reached for comment. Following her release last week, her family posted a statement on their website.
“Although we cannot and will not overlook the failures of the United States Marine Corps and DamNeck Leadership [sic], we are overjoyed Thae is released from their toxic control,” they wrote.
Pan Phyu, Ohu’s sister who serves in the Navy based in San Diego, posted a photo on the Facebook page Friday, a screenshot of a video conversation with Ohu sitting outdoors. Phyu did not respond to an inquiry from The Pilot on Thursday.
As part of her sentence, a military judge recommended that a bad conduct discharge for Ohu be suspended for six months. The final decision, however — unlike in civilian court — rests with military officials.
Capt. Sam Stephenson, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in an email that Ohu, who also received a rank reduction, will be placed on voluntary appellate leave pending a decision on her discharge.
Maj. Zachary Phelps, the Marine Corps’ lead prosecutor on the case, argued in court that Ohu’s behavioral issues — including an outburst at a Navy hospital where Ohu broke free of restraints and damaged a window — were a show of “complete disrespect for the law,” not her diagnosed mental illness, according to the Marine Corps Times. A bad conduct discharge would “deter” future Marines from violent outbursts, Phelps said, according the news outlet.
Master-at-arms Sayth Mason testified on Ohu’s behalf, the Marine Corps Times reported. Once she received the correct medication, Mason said, her behavior in the brig improved.
Eric Montalvo, one of Ohu’s attorneys with the Washington-based Federal Practice Group, said he’s glad to see Ohu out of confinement “because I felt her life was being taken away day by day through maltreatment and lack of treatment for mental health concerns.”
Ohu pleading guilty, however — and possibly losing medical benefits through a bad conduct discharge — is not the outcome he wanted.
“I don’t believe justice has been properly served here,” Montalvo said. “I wish (Ohu) the best and hope she’s able to move forward and get the help she needs.”
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