JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - A 10-officer court-martial panel on Friday found Joint Base Lewis-McChord pilot Capt. Jared Foley innocent of dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment in the 2011 death of an Army paratrooper from the West Virginia National Guard.
Foley, 37, had faced 2 years in prison for approving an airdrop that led to the death of Sgt. Francis "Frank" T. Campion III, 31, of Hollidaysburg.
Foley closed his eyes and seemed to hold back tears when the colonel who led the court-martial panel read the verdict. Capt. Sarah Carlson, one of Foley's defense attorneys, could not stop from crying.
He embraced a courtroom full of supporters, most of them Air Force officers in flight suits or brown leather jackets.
All of the attorneys in the case declined to comment through their command. Foley also declined to comment.
Foley's case caught the attention of airmen throughout the service because Foley was a well-respected C-17 pilot who believed he was following Air Force regulations when he permitted what became a fatal airdrop on July 10, 2011, over a Montana air field.
Foley maintained that Army leaders on the ground and in the air cleared the last jump even though a previous one had resulted in a soldier landing outside an established drop zone. That should have been a signal to Foley to end the mission, according to Air Force regulations.
But soldiers on the ground said the jumper landed off course because of his own error and cleared Foley for more drops.
Furthermore, Foley testified on Thursday that the feedback he received from computer reports and service members on five previous passes over the airfield showed that the mission was going well.
Foley's defense team argued that the jump that preceded Campion's death fell into a gray area in Air Force regulations because Army safety officers persuaded the air crew that the paratrooper had maneuvered himself off course.
"They say it's black and white, how can it be black and white if Foley's making this mistake?" Foley's defense attorney, Matt McCall, said on Thursday, citing Foley's reputation as a careful pilot. "If it was black and white, we wouldn't be here."
The Army's drop zone safety officer from the Montana mission on Wednesday testified that he told Foley "the ground was good."
The 62nd Airlift Wing at Lewis-McChord has since instituted new training to stress that all airdrop missions must end if an off drop zone landing is suspected, Foley's defense attorneys said.
Foley on Thursday testified that he believed his court-martial was part of an effort by the military to better define its regulations.
"I think the government wants to make it black and white," Foley said.
Campion's mother and sister watched Foley's court-martial. They said Thursday they were not invested in seeing a guilty verdict, but they wanted to be here "because Francis was here."
Campion's sister, Vivian Desiderio, nonetheless, came away with an impression that Foley's defense team was blaming the Army for a lapse in his responsibility as commander of an Air Force C-17 crew.
"As a U.S. citizen, I am embarrassed that a highly reputable Air Force pilot would try to blame another service member," she said after Thursday's proceedings.
Foley has served in the military for 17 years and deployed at least twice to the Middle East. He was well respected by his commanders, and 38 service members wrote character letters on his behalf.
Lt. Col. Eric Carney, Foley's former commander at Lewis-McChord's 7th Airlift Squadron, said after the court-martial that he had faith in the military investigation and in the care the Air Force takes to ensure safety of its crews and passengers.
He testified to support Foley on Thursday. On Friday, Carney reiterated that Foley is "an outstanding officer."