On February 1, 2001, a Navy enlisted woman reported that she had been raped the night before by three Navy lieutenants following a night of partying on the Navy base in Millington, Tennessee.
The woman said that on the night of January 31, 2001, she had been at the Helmsman Club and had danced with one of the men, whom she only knew as “Big Sam.” Eventually, “Big Sam,” who was later identified as Samuel Harris, along with Roger House and Reginal Williams, invited her to a going away party for House at Harris’s residence. When the men assured her that other women would be present, she agreed to attend and Harris drove her to his home.
The woman said she went into Harris’s bedroom where they engaged in “consensual fondling” and she consented to the removal of her skirt and underpants. She said Harris was performing oral sex on her when Williams and House came into the room partially nude. She said she demanded to be taken home, but instead all three men raped her.
Harris ultimately drove her home but not before they stopped to get some food on the way back to the base, she said.
A medical examination showed no signs of physical injury and no evidence of any semen.
On February 5, 2001, investigators arranged for the woman to record a telephone call to Harris, but during the call Harris never said he knew who was calling or what she was talking about. The following day, investigators interviewed Harris, who said he did go home with a woman after leaving the club, that he did not know her name and that they were in the bedroom when House and Williams let themselves in with a key to “check on him.” When they saw Harris and the woman in bed, they retreated, Harris said.
The woman, according to Harris, became upset and said she “didn’t want to get caught with an officer.” Harris said that he had been unaware of her enlisted status until then and at that point immediately stopped his actions. Both got dressed and he drove her home, stopping along the way to get food.
Harris consented to a search of his residence and investigators found a condom box containing both wrapped and unwrapped condoms along with a used condom.
House, Williams and Harris were then charged with sexual assault. At a court-martial in January 2002, evidence presented included DNA test results that linked House to one of three condoms found outside Harris’s residence and linked the woman to two of the condoms.
Despite the evidence, all three were acquitted of the rape charge, but were convicted of three lesser charges—conduct unbecoming an officer, conspiracy to make a false statement and providing a false statement under oath. House was fined $1,000, and he was told by his superiors that his military career was effectively over, so he resigned his commission.
In 2005, an investigation of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory revealed that analyst Phillip Mills, who performed the DNA analysis in the prosecution of House, Williams and Harris, had made numerous errors in testing for DNA. The investigation found that Mills found DNA where it didn’t exist and failed to find DNA where it did exist. Mills resigned in 2005 shortly before he was to be fired for making a false statement in another case.
Unbeknownst to House, Williams and Harris, the DNA in their case was retested as part of the investigation of Mills. The retesting showed that none of the officers’ DNA was present on the condoms. The DNA of an unidentified male—not any of the three defendants—was found, however.
The test results were not revealed until 2009. Following the disclosure of the DNA test results, House’s convictions were set aside. The Navy declined to dismiss the convictions of Harris, saying they were unrelated to the DNA evidence. We do not know whether the conviction of Lieutenant Williams was reviewed or vacated in the aftermath of the discovery of the misconduct by analyst Mills.
– Maurice Possley