A Marine recruiter who originally was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexual misconduct and sending thousands of illicit sexual messages to four female high school students has had his sentence further reduced to four years' confinement.
U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that unlawful command influence stemming from testimony provided by Staff Sgt. Nhubu C. Chikaka’s commanding officer and the use of a photograph of then-Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos affected the case.
It’s the latest fallout from controversial remarks made by Amos in 2012 during a series of talks known as the Heritage Briefs that were aimed at reducing sexual assault and rape across the Corps.
At one of the talks, Amos said that nearly 80 percent of sexual assault allegations are legitimate, comments that have since set off a series of appeals and reduced sentences for Marines convicted of sex offenses.
During Chikaka’s trial, a photograph of the commandant with a victim’s great grandfather — who was receiving the Congressional Gold Medal — was admitted by the military judge.
Chikaka’s defense alleged that the photograph of Amos was intended to “put the face of the Marine Corps and the Heritage Brief directly in front of the members,” in a document filed with The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Chikaka’s case has now appeared before U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals three times and his sentence has been reduced each time.
In 2014, Chikaka, a recruiter with the Sixth Marine Corps District out of Douglasville, Georigia, was convicted of abusive sexual contact, unwanted sexual contact, adultery and obstruction of justice, among other offenses, and was sentenced to 12 years' confinement, reduction to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge.
According to a court filing, Chikaka made inappropriate sexual comments to a 17-year-old female he was trying to recruit. He also engaged in unwanted sexual behavior, groped and sent sexual messages to a 19-year-old female recruit in the delayed-entry-program.
And the former Marine recruiter had an affair with an 18-year-old recruit, sent her nude pictures of himself and purchased alcohol for her, court documents said.
In 2016, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals found “an unreasonable multiplication of charges” and Chikaka’s sentence was reduced to five years' confinement, reduction to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge.
The recruiter’s defense filed an appeal seeking a retrial in June 2016, to the military’s highest appeals court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, on the grounds of unlawful command influence.
That court remanded the case back to the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals to determine if unlawful command influence impacted the case.
The court found that remarks made by Chikaka’s commanding officer during the trial represented the most substantial impact of unlawful command influence.
During his testimony, the commanding officer “appealed to members to award a sentence that delivered a message,” court documents said.
Chikaka’s commanding officer essentially had asked the court for a sentence that would create a deterrent effect for other recruiters.
But, “the government has not convinced us beyond a reasonable doubt that the introduction of the Commandant’s picture did not insert the Commandant into the deliberation room,” the Navy-Marine appeals court said.
While the Amos photo may have had some unlawful command influence, the court found no evidence that the Heritage Briefs themselves impacted the case.
“The picture was not accompanied by any text or information that could be seen as directing a particular result in the case,” the appeals court said.
Chikaka’s sentence was reduced to four years’ confinement, reduction to E-1, dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay as a result of unlawful command influence.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.