The key question in the case of Keith Barry is whether the Navy’s top lawyer Vice Adm. James Crawford III and Rear Adm. Patrick Lorge illegally conspired against the SEAL.

An appeals court has barred all Navy and Marine Corps judges from hearing a case involving allegations that high-ranking military leaders exerted unlawful influence to doom a San Diego SEAL’s defense against rape charges.

The order was issued Monday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C.

It sends the case back to a special master in San Diego, who will investigate whether the Navy’s top lawyer — Vice Adm. James Crawford III — illegally conspired with then-Rear Adm. Patrick Lorge, commander of Navy Region Southwest in the aftermath of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith Barry’s 2015 court-martial to sway the final verdict against him.

David Sheldon, Barry’s attorney in Washington, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the appellate court “took the very first step in righting the wrong that is Senior Chief Barry’s case.”

“That the court saw fit to prevent any naval officer from presiding over the case speaks volumes about the impropriety of (Crawford’s) actions. Senior Chief Barry remains confident that justice will prevail in the end. It is high time that those in the Navy responsible for this unprecedented action are held accountable …

“A war hero has been wrongly convicted because of the Navy’s top lawyer’s unlawful actions. The time is now for justice.”

No longer in the military, the highly decorated Barry was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge, but he has never stopped fighting to clear his record and his name.

His court-martial stems from a brief romance he had with a civilian woman. In court, she said Barry raped her. He said she lied about their consensual relationship as a way to get even after he quit dating her.

Military law allows commanders who convene court-martial proceedings to nix a ruling they believe is unjust.

Lorge approved the court-martial conviction against Barry, but he claimed in a recently filed affidavit that he had actually wanted to overturn the conviction based on what he saw as insufficient evidence.

Lorge has alleged that Crawford encouraged him to let the conviction stand so it would appease congressional critics of the military justice system and the administration of President Barack Obama.

He also claimed that Crawford believed the military needed to project a tougher image against sexual assault, and that Crawford saw a repeal of the verdict as a career-ending move for Lorge.

Lorge, who is now retired, hasn’t commented publicly about his own affidavit or the Barry case in general.

Although the Union-Tribune continues to press Navy officials for statements about actions by Crawford and other commissioned officers in the Barry case, they have declined to comment.

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©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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