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Lawyer for Ky. Sailor accused of setting fire to Navy ship says client representation was not fair

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – The attorney for a Kentucky sailor charged with setting fire to a Navy ship says his client is innocent. Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays is originally from the Ashland area. He was charged over the summer for the July 2020 fire of the USS Bonhomme Richard.

The fire, which burned for days, is considered one of the worst non-combat warship disasters in recent memory and the ship had to be scrapped. More than 60 sailors and civilians were injured.

Last week, it was reported that Mays would face a court-martial for arson.

“He’s adamant he didn’t do what he’s charged with,” attorney Gary Barthel said.

In an exclusive interview with WKYT, Barthel explained his client’s side of the story, something he says was not properly portrayed. Family members reached out to WKYT’s Chad Hedrick to share Mays’ side of the story.

“I think the way the case was described and the information that was provided to the public was not accurate,” Barthel said. “It didn’t paint him in a good light. It was not a fair representation.

Prosecutors say Mays set the fire because he was unhappy after dropping out of Navy SEAL training. Barthel claims there is no physical evidence linking him to the fire. He says prosecutors are banking their case on the testimony of a witness who says he saw Mays around where the fire started.

“He never reported seeing anyone on the day of the fire going down there. It was several days later that he said he saw someone going down there, but he didn’t recognize who it was. Yet he knows Mays.

Barthel says the witness lacks credibility because we know he didn’t like Mays.

Another witness says Mays apparently confessed to lighting it.

In December, Sailor Carissa Tubman testified that Mays muttered, “I’m guilty, I guess. I did it,” as he was driven to the brig in August 2020.

Barthel says his client was being sarcastic because he was wrongfully arrested.

“Throughout this interview, he denied any involvement in the burning of the ship, and always denied it. After NCIS and ATF finished interviewing him, they turned him over to command. Command apparently made the decision to put him in jail on remand Mays was unaware of this.

Barthel says that story has also been inconsistent, and when they go to court martial in the next few days, they are eager to prove Mays innocent. He cites where dozens of naval officials, including several admirals, were disciplined for failings that investigators say prevented the fire from being put out sooner. He went on to say he would argue that there is more evidence the fire was started because of negligence and improper storage of lithium batteries near boxes of hand sanitiser.

Mays is still an active member of the Navy. His lawyer says he shows up for work every day.

Barthel says his client faces life in prison if convicted.

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