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Marine’s sexual assault conviction overturned because of commandant’s tough talk

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Gen. James AmosThe Marine Corps commandant’s uncompromising talk against sexual assault looked like unlawful command influence, a military appeals court said Thursday, as it overturned a Parris Island enlisted man’s conviction on sexual assault charges.

The high-profile ruling by the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals frees former Staff Sgt. Steve Howell. The ruling also casts stark light on the unforeseen consequences that have ensued from high-level Pentagon and congressional attention to the problem of sexual assault in the military.

“We’re ecstatic,” Howell’s attorney, C. Edward Massey, said in an interview Thursday. “I think this was the right thing to do.”

The decision by the three-judge appellate panel is the latest, and in some ways most dramatic, fallout from a series of remarks given in 2012 by the commandant, Gen. James Amos. Pressed by Congress, Amos delivered a round of talks in which he urged tough action against sexual assault in the ranks.

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