Anatomy of a Court-Martial, Part IV

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by Sharon Rondeau

Captain John Paul Jones was born in Scotland and became an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. He was the first to reach the rank of First Lieutenant in the newly-formed Navy authorized by Congress on 13 October 1775. He is known for his courage in taking the fight to the enemy and for his declaration of "I have not yet begun to fight!"

(Oct. 12, 2010) — This segment of The Post & Email’s coverage of the court-martial of LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III details the events of October 12, 1989, wherein Fitzpatrick states that his fate was decided by four military officers who illegally colluded and convened to pronounce him guilty before any public hearing took place.  The day he was notified that he was under investigation for alleged misappropriation of funds while serving on board the USS MARS was 13 October 1989, the 214th anniversary of the birth of the U.S. Navy, one day after he claims that the four men had met in secret and agreed to convict him.

MRS. RONDEAU: I know today you wish to detail how the date of October 12 is particularly significant in your life and how it related to your court-martial.

CDR. FITZPATRICK: My commanding officer, Mike Nordeen, was relieved on the ship on the last day of August, 1989, as indicated on the chronology.  So I had a new skipper on 1 September 1989, and that was William Pickavance.  His nickname was “Bear” Pickavance.  We had an exercise we had to do called “the Pacific exercise of 1989,” or PACEX.  It was a rim-of-the-Pacific exercise.  We got under way to do that on the 18th of September when we went to sea.  It was on the 18th of September that Tim Zeller came to the USS MARS to conduct his investigation.  During his investigation, Zeller began collecting all versions of the MARS fiscal year 1988 MWR report.  He was there to collect those, and he did.

Again, Mike Nordeen was gone; he was on orders to go to another command.  I was about to transfer also; I was under orders to attend the Naval War College.  I was about to leave.  In fact, my relief was on board the ship.  We were turning over.  His name was LCDR Conrad Divis.  In fact, I left the ship about a week or so later. We sailed from Oakland, CA and went up to Dutch Harbor, AK, and that’s where I departed the ship to fly back to Oakland and then home to pack up and transfer to the Naval War College in Newport, RI.

I wasn’t notified about the actions being taken against me until 13 October 1989, which is the day after my “real” court-martial, the one handled in secret.  Tim Zeller stayed at sea.  He left the MARS and he went to another ship called the USS Kiska, as there was another event which called for him to be present.  It was an ammunition ship, EE-35.

At that stage in the investigation, he had left the MARS, gone to the Kiska, and then flown back to Oakland, CA, which was the home base for Combat Logistics Groups 1.  The offices of Admiral Bitoff, Mike Edwards, Paul Romanski, and Tim Zeller were located at the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay to the east.

Here is where we go to the chronology.  Between the 18th of September and the second of October, Zeller could not possibly have completed his investigation.  Part of that time he had spent on the USS Kiska.  It was not possible, unless he was to come back and say, “I’m done.”  But that’s not what happened.  Zeller came back, and when you look at the chronology, on the second of October, he came back in and briefed Paul Romanski about what Zeller had done on the USS MARS.  In that 2 October chronology, Zeller pronounced my guilt verbally.  Romanski’s chronology of 2 October says (paraphrased), “LT Zeller returned from the MARS embarkation, verbally debriefed CAPT Romanski that Zeller felt that the case against LCDR Fitzpatrick was serious.  Romanski told Zeller to complete the initial written report, which was extensive, for review by CAPT Edwards and CAPT Romanski, and then presentation to Admiral Bitoff.”

Page 2 of Capt. Paul Romanski's chronology of events relating to the charges against LCDR Fitzpatrick

Enlargement of Capt. Romanski's chronology entry of October 2, 1989

So Zeller came back and reported to Paul Romanski that I was guilty.  Zeller had an extensive written report.  I have his handwritten report here.  This report that Zeller put together was bounced back and forth between senior commanding officers.  That’s what happened.  Of course, the memo exchange between Romanski and Zeller shows that these two men were working together purposefully to see to it that I was removed from the United States Navy, and they were looking to use a court-martial to do that.  They were doing so illegally.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:  An investigating officer goes out, and he should have distance from the command that sends him out there.  In fact, when Zeller got to the ship, if he believed that the charges against me were valid, he should have called in the NCIS.  And he didn’t.  These men knew what they were doing.  Zeller went out to the ship on the 18th of September to put together a case against me which was false from its beginning.  Zeller was a hit man, Bitoff’s hit man.  He was told to go out and find a way to make a court-martial work against Fitzpatrick, who was on his way to the Naval War College.  These men were working with specific, purposeful, criminal intent from the very beginning. That’s why Zeller went out to collect the 1988 MWR report.

MRS. RONDEAU: When Zeller was on the MARS to collect the reports, did you know why he was there?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: I was called on the 15th of September, late in the day.  I was the XO (Executive Officer); I was responsible for putting people in bunks on the ship.  We had a teacher on board who rode the ship to teach college courses while we were under way.  I had to make the teacher move out of his bunk to make room for Tim Zeller.  I believe that that was my first alert that Zeller was coming out to the ship to take a look at the MWR materials, and I said, “OK, fine.  I’ll get them ready for him.”  So Zeller embarked on the 18th, on a Monday, and we were under way that day at 08:00 hours.

Of course, when he got there, Zeller announced his purpose.  So I said, “OK, fine; I’ll show you whatever it is we need to show you.”

I had had a great tour, and I was looking forward to going to the War College.  Zeller asked some questions; I told him what I knew, and then I left.

MRS. RONDEAU: Did you suspect at that point that anyone was trying to target you?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: No.  I went home, and I started packing up my family and getting ready for a move to Newport, RI.  It was on the evening of Friday the 13th of October, 1989 that the phone call came in when my wife and I were preparing to go out with our neighbors for a “goodbye” dinner.  That was the first alert that I was now a target of the court-martial process.  By the way, 13 October is the Navy’s birthday, the day that the U.S. Navy came into existence under Congressional enactment.  It was on that afternoon, just past 4:00 p.m., that the phone call came in,  not that I remember it all that well.

So Zeller came out to the ship, was on board for a short time, and in a matter of mere days, came up with this extensive report that I was a criminal and guilty of the crime of which he was accusing me.  That is outrageous.  You can’t do that.

Here is what the investigating officer is supposed to do:  He or she is supposed to go out and investigate the matter independently and without the interference, oversight or intervention of any other person, and certainly not higher command.  Zeller came back and was working with Capt. Edwards, Capt. Romanski, and John Bitoff to see to it that I would never, ever survive in the U.S. Navy.  Zeller was working with these men; he was showing them his investigative work product.  Zeller was not supposed to go to someone who could influence his decision, and that’s what he did.  All four men were working against me, and that’s consistent with the fact that Romanski originally putting in that second sentence might have given up the game.  “Take it out, Capt. Romanski; you might give us away.”  That’s what that was all about.

Editor’s Note: The reference to the “second sentence” appeared in our previous report, and included a paragraph from a memo which Tim Zeller had written to Paul Romanski with the following wording:

3. The letter forwarding my report to CNSP pointed out clearly that the report was unedited and the conclusions reached were mine alone.  Your entry for 5 Oct 89 may call that statement into question, should this document ever be needed.  This issue is important to keep our roles separate in this case, namely I do not want you disqualified from action later in the case for being an accuser.  Recommend you drop the second sentence.

So Zeller was supposed to complete his report and turn it into his commanding officer or whomever assigned him to the task, and then walk away from it.  But the investigation report was something that was crafted, and it was written not by Tim Zeller alone, but by a group of people, all of whom were my accusers.

One of the people who was involved in the writing of the six-page 23 October 1989 report was Mike Edwards, who was the captain of the ship at the time that these events occurred.  Mike Edwards should not have had any participation in the investigation except as a witness.   So what was he doing working with Zeller on this?  This whole thing was planned from the beginning. To make the point about how carefully it was planned, they already knew what they were going to do to me, and that brings us to the 12th of October 1989.  Zeller had already pronounced my guilt.  He came in to brief the admiral.  The admiral said, “OK, you’re right, Tim.  He’s guilty.  Let’s go get ‘im.”  Mike Edwards was sitting next to John Bitoff, and Paul Romanski was in the room.  These men were my accusers.  They were conspiring together on the 12th of October.  I had already been pronounced guilty, and the court-martial was held behind closed doors on that Thursday.  They already knew what they were going to do; all four men knew.  It was after that point that they assigned Kevin Anderson as my defense counsel, knowing that they needed somebody else to play the role of defense counsel to do what they did to me.

That court-martial was done in secret, and I will suggest to you that Col. Lakin’s court-martial has already been handled in secret.  Everything else after that is to achieve the result that’s been ordered by higher command.  That’s the importance of the secret court-martial, the Columbus Day court-martial, if you will, of 1989.  These men did everything they could to manipulate the process to make sure that Zeller’s verdict of guilt was repeated publicly and openly in what appeared to everybody else to be a legitimate court-martial.

MRS. RONDEAU: So was the “court-martial” a kangaroo court?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: It was a show trial.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you happen to know if they physically all sat in one room and put the verdict together, or was it done some other way?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: No, they sat in a room together.  Look at the Romanski chronology for 12 October.  What does it say?

MRS. RONDEAU: “RADM Bitoff meets with CAPT Edwards/Romanski and LT Zeller to discuss MARS Wel/Rec investigation and LCDR Fitzpatrick.  RADM Bitoff approves recommendation to refer matter to Article 32 to ensure complete impartiality (emphasis added by The Post & Email), and to have LCDR Fitzpatrick’s PCS orders modified to reflect TEMDU FURASPERS at CLG-1 (vice transfer to NAVWARCOL) to retain CLG-1 jurisdiction.”

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Nonsense.  Everywhere you read that these men were trying to make it look fair or impartial, what they were trying to do was cover up what they were really doing, which was to carry out a decision already made.  The court-martial of 12 October was done in secret.  John Bitoff was my accuser; he wasn’t allowed to do this.  This command wasn’t allowed to do this.  Our immediate superior in the chain of command (it’s called “ISIC”) was John Bitoff.  The original MWR report went to Bob Toney, Bitoff’s predecessor, back at the end of the fiscal year of 1988.  I don’t know what happened to the original after that, but that’s where it went, and we kept copies on the ship.

MRS. RONDEAU: You had mentioned a missing report.  Was that the MWR report from 1988?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Yes, it was a to-the-penny accounting, like a report to an accounting firm.  We had to account for every penny, and we did.  We were very clear in articulating the money that was spent for the funeral trip.  So that report left the ship in September 1988, and they had 14 months to read it, and if there had been any problem with the expenditures of the money, which there wasn’t, they could have told us well before 13 October 1989.  But Zeller and Bitoff waited until Mike Nordeen left the ship, and then they came after me to attack me.  This was a setup, an ambush.  Zeller knew exactly what it was that he was being ordered to go out and do, so everything else that you see behind this falls into place.  They knew up front that they needed the defense counsel to be working with them, or they didn’t have a case.  They knew that they couldn’t go to the NCIS with it because they didn’t have a case, and if they had given it to any other investigative body, it wouldn’t have gone to a court-martial.

MRS. RONDEAU: But they made it look as if it was a real court-martial over something legitimate.

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Yes.  It says in there, “We tried to get a hold of the NCIS, but the NCIS wasn’t available.”  That appears in a letter.  It’s a lie!  The NCIS is always available.  In fact, the NCIS was at sea.  I’ve spoken with NCIS agents about this, and the NCIS knows what Zeller and Bitoff did, by the way.

MRS. RONDEAU: They do?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Oh, you bet.  Stealing on board a ship is almost worse than a murder.  You don’t do that.  And who was it who was being accused of the theft?  It was the second-in-command of the ship, the XO.  Even if it had been just an officer involved; it could have been one of our lieutenants, one of our ensigns who was involved in a theft; just because it is an officer who’s involved in the accused theft, it is HUGE! This doesn’t happen frequently.

Paul Romanski should have turned the investigation over to the NCIS.  By this time, I was back home in the San Francisco Bay area.  The NCIS could have come after me and asked me questions while I was on land.  I wasn’t on the ship anymore; I was getting ready to pack to go to the War College.  Did they turn it over to the NCIS?  No.

MRS. RONDEAU: They must have known what they should have done.

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Of course.  And they wrote down that they knew that they should have done it.  I can send you the memo which says that they were going to call the NCIS but they “weren’t available.”  John Bitoff was a one-star admiral, and he was supposed to know that because he went to admirals’ school.  And the admiral should have turned to Mike Edwards, the temporary captain of the ship, and asked him if he saw anything wrong happening at the time.  And they should have sent it to another command, but they didn’t.  Instead, Bitoff ordered Zeller to complete the report and then to become my accuser.  None of these four men should have been allowed to be any part of this court-martial process, but all four of them were.  They kept complete control of it because in their minds, I had to be removed from the Navy.

"Progress Report" dated October 4, 1989 stating that in regard to contacting the NIS, "the deployment of the USS MARS has made such action impractical."

Enlargement of 4 October 1989 Progress Report

MRS. RONDEAU: You had mentioned that the reason for that might have been that they thought you were too honest and that if you moved up in rank, you might have been a whistleblower.  Do you think there was any other reason?

CDR. FITZPATRICK: Of course there could have been.  At the time that he was in the military, Admiral William Crowe was one of the most powerful Navy men around, and one of his principal assistants three times over throughout the course of Admiral Crowe’s career was a guy named John Bitoff.  Crowe was a political animal, and Bitoff learned at the master’s knee.  Bitoff saw me as somebody who would promote to higher rank and would be dangerous because I would see the kind of criminal conduct that we see going on today and then report on it.


Editor’s Note: In our next segment, LCDR Fitzpatrick describes two “ghost witnesses” whom he stated never testified during the proceedings yet are quoted in documentation produced by his accusers.

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