A military judge ordered further investigation yesterday of a manslaughter charge against the skipper of the Cuyahoga, a Coast Guard cutter that was involved in a collision that left 11 men dead.
Cmdr. Richard A. Appelbaum, presiding over preliminary hearings in the court-martial of Chief Warrant Officer Donald K. Robinson, ruled in favor of a defense motion when he ordered the further investigation into the charge and another for damaging the vessel.
Appelbaum adjourned the hearing yesterday, saying he would set a date on June 14 to reconvene the hearings.
The Cuyahoga collided with a freighter in the Chesapeake Bay Oct. 20, 1978. The cutter sank within minutes, killing 11 crewmen. Robinson, as the skipper, was charged on three counts. The last, putting a vessel in danger, was allowed to stand yesterday.
Robinson's attorney, Jerome V. Flanagan, said after the adjournment, "The investigation was not done in compliance with the law. They cannot proceed with the manslaughter charge unless they conduct a new investigation. Or they could decide to drop two of the three charges."
Robinson, if convicted of all charges, faces a dishonorable discharge and up to six years hard labor in prison.
Flanagan also complained to the judge that the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. John B. Hayes, influenced the results of the investigation by telling a congressional subcommitee hearing that "an example should be made" of Robinson.
"That is incorrect," Hayes said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I in no way considered what charges might be brought against him." Hayes denied that Robinson was being made a "scapegoat" by the Coast Guard.
A National Transportation Safety Board report placed most of the blame on Robinson, who told investigators shortly after the collision that he thought the freighter was a small fishing vessel traveling in the same direction.
"I would like to use this time," said defense attorney Flanagan, "to explore Mr. Robinson's medical condition at the time of the collision."