Sailor found not guilty in fire that destroyed $1.2 billion USS Bonhomme Richard

"I’ve lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined," he said.

October 1, 2022, 9:45 AM

A sailor accused of setting a $1.2 billion Navy amphibious assault ship ablaze in San Diego was found not guilty by a military judge Friday.

Ryan Sawyer Mays was charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel after a four-day inferno in July 2020 relegated the costly USS Bonhomme Richard to a scrap yard in Texas.

PHOTO: Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays, reads a statement after his acquittal of setting a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, Sept. 30, 2022, in San Diego.
Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays, reads a statement after his acquittal of setting a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, Sept. 30, 2022, in San Diego.
Elliot Spagat/AP

Mays maintained his innocence from the beginning.

"Thankfully the military judge today reaffirmed that innocence," said Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torees, Mays' lead defense attorney.

PHOTO: Navy and civilian fire crews fight a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020, in San Diego.
Navy and civilian fire crews fight a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020, in San Diego.
Specialist 1st Class Patrick W. Menah Jr/U.S. Navy

After his not guilty verdict Friday, the 21-year-old told reporters gathered outside the courthouse he is eager move on with his life.

"I've lost friends, I've lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined. I am looking forward to starting over," Mays said..

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence against Mays, instead relying on a witness whose account changed over time and an allegation that Mays was disgruntled from failing to make it into the Navy SEALs, according to Mays' former attorney Gary Barthel, who attended the trial in person.

PHOTO: US Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays enters a U.S. Navy courtroom, Aug. 17, 2022, in San Diego.
US Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays enters a U.S. Navy courtroom, Aug. 17, 2022, in San Diego.
Julie Watson/AP, File

Barthel said Mays was "absolutely not" embittered against the Navy after he quit five days into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) selection in 2019.

"His dream has always been to make the Navy a career," Barthel told ABC News in August 2021.

PHOTO: A helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron helps combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020, in San Diego.
A helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron helps combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020, in San Diego.
Specialist 1st Class David Mora Jr/U.S. Navy

But speaking to ABC News on Friday after his former client's winning verdict, Barthel said a future in the Navy is unlikely for the young sailor.

"Here he has an employer that just accused him of committing a crime, threw him in the brig for two months, and now he's just been found not guilty. How would you feel? Would you want to stay with that employer? Probably not. So it's probably best for the Navy and Mays to part ways," Barthel said.

While prosecutors put blame on Mays after the catastrophic fire, the Navy acknowledged a series of leadership and safety failures that exacerbated the fire, punishing more than 20 individuals as a result.

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