Midshipman First Class Michael R. Olmstead, the first Naval Academy student to be court-martialed since 1922, was ordered dismissed from the Academy today by the same military jurors who had found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The 21-year-old Olmstead, convicted of recklessly causing the death of his Academy roommate, Scott Thomas, in an auto accident, stood still and erect as the sentence was announced but his downcast stare betrayed his pain.
The dismissal from both the Academy and the Navy, if upheld by military appeals courts, means the end of the naval career Olmstead had dreamed of since childhood. Dismissal for a midshipman is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge.
In a presentence hearing this morning, Olmstead, his voice quiet and shaky, told the six jurors who were about to decide his fate: "Today my first feelings are toward Scott and his family. His family was a great help to me when they were here for his funeral.
"They told me Scott would have wanted me to continue my naval career. I'm doing this not only for myself, but for Scott."
Thomas, 20, was killed last May as he and Olmstead were returning from a night out on the town in Olmstead's Porsche sports car. They had just crossed Dorsey Creek bridge when the car veered off the road and slammed into a tree. Olmstead was accused of being intoxicated and showing "gross negligence" by driving the car.
The defense acknowledged that he was intoxicated, but attempted to establish doubt as to whether Olmstead was actually the driver. Defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. John Holt said that no one -- not even Olmstead, who was in an alcohol-induced blackout at the time -- could say with certainty who was driving.
The jury found Olmstead guilty last Friday, and today the prosecutor, Lt. David Acton, told the same six military men that Olmstead's "error of judgment caused a death. That is hardly the kind of background we'd expect from a naval officer, particularly one from the Naval Academy."
Olmstead's attorney had tried to show the jurors, four of them Naval Academy graduates, that just the opposite was true -- that Olmstead, "tested by adversity," had proved to be a man of determination and courage.
"He has daily lived under a black cloud, a cloud that no one has lived under for nearly 60 years," Holt said in the makeshift courtroom here draped in green felt. During that time, Olmstead continued his studies and made the best grades of his academy career, Holt said.
Today, Olmstead's high school principal, former academy instructors and two classmates took the witness stand to describe Olmstead as quiet, reserved, a model student, a gentleman and a man who had held the post of company "conduct officer" investigating breaches of contract among his classmates.
"My personal feeling is he's probably as good as any midshipman I've ever met, and better than many," said Lt. Cmdr. Webster Wright, Olmstead's former riflery coach." He has the potential to be a good officer."
That was not to be. The jurors, who deliberated more than three hours, could have decided not to punish Olmstead at all or could have handed down a sentence of up to three years in prison.
They chose to dismiss the midshipman, who is less than three months shy of graduation.
The dismissal will not take effect until the case has been reviewed by the academy superintendent and a military appeals court. Meanwhile, Olmstead may complete his classes, but he will not be allowed to receive his degree.
"I'm going to stay in school until they tell me to leave," Olmstead said quietly when the sentencing was over.
Indeed, he still holds out hope for a reversal of the conviction and a military career. "I've always wanted it. I still want it," he said softly. "Your career depends on what you do when you're out there, not what happened here."