QUANTICO, Virginia ― After almost a year in pretrial confinement Cpl. Thae Ohu is free.
The Marine, then an administrative specialist at the Marine Corps Intelligence Schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, multiple accounts of assault, and destruction of government property stemming from an April 2020 incident where she tried to stab her then-boyfriend, Michael Hinesley, a Marine at the time.
She claims that the incident was a result of trauma from a previous sexual assault while in the Marine Corps.
On Wednesday, as part of a plea deal, Ohu pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault on an intimate partner with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault consummated by battery, one count of destruction of government property, and one count with two specifications of willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer.
Read her open letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
Prosecutors dropped the murder charges as part of the plea deal.
She was sentenced to time served, which totaled 328 days in the brig, reduction to E-1 and a bad conduct discharge, though the judge, Lt. Col. Michael Zimmerman, recommended the discharge be suspended for six months.
The suspended discharge might mean Ohu would remain eligible for her health benefits and keep the medication that she needs.
Her case, initially seen as a simple assault, grew in prominence and complexity as more details emerged. It’s one advocates have pointed to as an example of what they say are repeated Marine Corps failures to handle sexual assault within its ranks and poor treatment of Marines who suffer from mental illness.
Mental health battles
Ohu was born in a refugee camp in Thailand to Burmese freedom fighters who eventually sought asylum in the U.S.
Once in America and safe from an oppressive government, Ohu had, what she testified in a sworn statement before a military court in Quantico, Virginia, on Wednesday, a troubled but loving childhood.
Both her mother and father had suffered from mental health issues, which saw her and her two sisters move in and out of the foster care system, she said.
Diagnosed with depression and PTSD, Ohu’s first suicide attempt came in high school.
But, with medication and therapy she was able to improve and shortly after graduating decided to enlist in the Marine Corps to, “come up with my own identity,” Ohu said.
Because of the mental health medication, she required waivers to enlist and spent two years working with recruiters before shipping off to boot camp, seeking to prove that “mental illness is not something that can defeat” her.
While Ohu was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in 2015 she proved to be a promising Marine, according to retired Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bates, who testified on her behalf Wednesday.
That all changed when one of her superiors allegedly raped her.
The alleged rapist is now a staff sergeant working in the Pentagon’s legal division, Marine Corps Times confirmed through releasable service information.
Ohu initially did not report the alleged rape and has not said why. Eventually, however, she did what she described as a “selfish” thing and report the Marine.
The alleged sexual assault seemed to have caused Ohu’s mental health to regress, causing the issues of her past to come flooding back, Ohu said in court on Wednesday.
Her mental health decline, combined with the retirement and station change of the few senior leaders she trusted, caused a decline in her work as a Marine.
“I knew I couldn’t give what I needed to the Marine Corps,” Ohu said.
Her allegation of rape was never prosecuted, for reasons that Marine Corps Times has not yet been able to confirm.
It did cause her to seek out medical care in 2019 and start the process to medically retire.
But before she could safely leave the Corps with guaranteed health care, a fight with her then-boyfriend resulted in a 911 call that would change Ohu’s life.
He was ‘in the way’
The fight in April 2020 started out innocuous, she said, and was over whether the couple should buy a washer and dryer.
When Ohu raised her voice, her boyfriend, Hinesley walked away, triggering a fear of abandonment that caused Ohu to start binge drinking and spiral downward as she left their shared Virginia home.
Later that day she returned and grabbed a knife from the drawer intending on killing herself, she said, when she saw Hinesley “in the way.”
At that moment it no longer was Hinesley standing across from her in the kitchen, but the staff sergeant who had raped her in Okinawa, Ohu claims.
Ohu said anger and shame exploded out of her and she wanted to hurt the man had who hurt her and she started chasing her boyfriend through the house with the knife.
Ohu said her anger was so great at that moment that even when she realized it was the “love of her life” she continued to try and stab him.
Locked behind the bedroom door as Ohu repeatedly stabbed it, Hinesley called the police, hoping they would de-escalate the situation and get Ohu help.
The call, one that he says he regrets, led to Ohu’s arrest followed by the Marine Corps seeking to give her a bad conduct discharge, which would cause her to lose all her benefits.
“I can’t begin to tell you about the nightmares of regret that I would face if this court places a conviction on Cpl. Ohu,” he said in a sworn statement on Wednesday.
Hinesley placed the blame of the assault on Ohu’s mental illness and the failure of her command to provide her the help she needed.
“Thae is a victim too and I was just a symptom to an even greater problem in the Marine Corps and Department of the Navy,” said Hinesley.
In February 2020, two months before the assault, Hinesley had told the command of Ohu’s most recent suicide attempt. She had jumped in front of a moving vehicle as the two were heading home from work.
“Thae exited my vehicle and sprinted into heavy traffic … where a silver Toyota 4Runner immediately stopped coming within feet of hitting her,” Hinesley told the court.
Instead of focusing on getting Ohu help, Hinesley claimed, the command prioritized sending her to a transition readiness seminar, a requirement for all Marines leaving the service.
“The command didn’t see her injuries or her mental health turmoil, so they judged her, called her a problem child and tried to fast track her out of the Marine Corps instead of doing their due diligence in providing effective care,” Hinesley said.
Hinesley’s assault resulted in Ohu’s aggravated assault charge, along with a charge of attempted premeditated murder and unpremeditated murder. Ohu eventually pleaded guilty to the assault charge, while the prosecutors dropped the murder charges as part of the plea agreement.
After the attempted assault, Ohu was sent to a long-term psychiatric care facility until mid-June 2020. She was then sent back to her unit and given a military protective order preventing her from initiating any type of contact with Hinesley or entering the home they had shared.
She violated that order twice on July 22, 2020, when she first called Hinesley and later showed up to the house and tried to talk to him.
Locked in the bedroom, Hinesley asked Ohu to leave. She quickly complied but later had a panic attack in her car, which later resulted in the command finding out she had violated a lawful order twice.
The other two assault charges came as the result of a forced hospitalization at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, after that visit to their house. While in a hospital room waiting to see the doctor, Ohu had broken out of her hand restraints and used them to shatter a window.
Glass from the window had hit two nearby service members, causing minor injuries. Ohu also was charged with the destruction of government property for breaking the window.
Ultimately Ohu ended up in the Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, Virginia, where she would spend the next 328 days in and out of solitary confinement while awaiting trial.
While in prison she spent almost 160 days in “special quarters,” because she was threatening to harm herself, Ohu said in court.
The special quarters was a bare room with a hole in the middle acting as a toilet, she said, which could be flushed by a button pushed by the guards.
She sometimes spent days with feces on her smock, mattress and blanket, she claimed in court. One day she missed the hole while defecating and had to clean it up with her bare hands.
At some point she was denied access to utensils, a sleeping mat and even a blanket in special quarters because they could potentially be used for self-harm, Ohu said.
“I felt like I was an animal,” Ohu said.
Meanwhile the guards started making fun of her and calling her “Uhni babooni,” she claimed, while the brig officer in charge demanded to know why she could not act “normal.”
According to one of Ohu’s lawyers, Jason Moy, brig policy prevented those who were in pretrial confinement from receiving regular mental health checkups because the brig did not know how long the prisoner would be detained.
This led to a prolonged fight to get Ohu on the proper medication to keep her mental health balanced and keep her from hurting herself.
Once she received the correct medication, her behavior in the brig suddenly improved, Master-at-arms Sayth Mason said in court as she testified on Ohu’s behalf. It is unclear to Marine Corps Times exactly when this change took place.
Maj. Zachary Phelps, the Marine Corps lead prosecutor in this case, argued that the Ohu should receive a bad conduct discharge to set an example and “deter” future Marines from the violent outbursts Ohu exhibited.
Phelps said Ohu’s violent actions against Hinesley and her behavioral issues in the brig were not a result of her diagnosed mental illnesses, but a show of “complete disrespect for the law.”
Meanwhile, Ohi’s lawyer argued that her medical retirement be honored to ensure that she keeps the health care she needs.
“Ohu is broken, she needs help, she doesn’t need more punishment,” Moy said in his closing arguments late Wednesday evening, noting that Ohu only has about three months of medication currently prescribed.
Moy questioned who would be deterred by giving Ohu more punishment, calling a bad conduct discharge “punishment for punishment’s sake.”
A Marine with a bad conduct discharge from a special court-martial can apply for medical aid from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it would be up to the department to determine if she received the benefits or not.
As part of her plea agreement, the convening authority, Brig. Gen. Jason Morris, the commander of the Corps’ Training Command, will write a letter recommending the VA accept Ohu’s application and give her health care, but that the VA is under no obligation to the Marine Corps to honor its wishes.
In his sentencing Zimmerman recommended that the discharge be suspended for six months.
The recommendation gives Morris the ability to suspend the bad conduct discharge as long as she complies to whatever conditions he sets for six months.
The Marine Corps has not answered questions as to where Ohu is now, what she will be doing for the next six months, or what those conditions will be.
“In general, suspension of a sentence grants the accused a probationary period during which the suspended part of a sentence is not executed, and upon the accused’s successful completion of which the suspended part of the sentence shall be remitted,” the 2019 Manual for Court Martial reads.
Don Christensen, a former Air Force judge advocate and president of Protect Our Defenders, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence in the military, told Marine Corps Times in a Monday phone call, “We’ve got a long way to goes in all the services, particularly the Marine Corps in dealing with and accepting the impact of trauma from sexual assault.”
“A punitive discharge seemed harsh, especially considering they could deny her medical treatment and other benefits” Christensen said, caveating that he does not know all the details about the case.
He noted that if the punitive discharge is suspended, but the Corps fails to ensure Ohu continues to receive the help she needs for the next six months, there is a risk that she will have a relapse with her mental illness and violate whatever conditions are set.
Ohu’s family put a statement out online
“Although we cannot and will not overlook the failures of the United States Marine Corps and DamNeck Leadership, we are overjoyed Thae is released from their toxic control,” wrote Pan Phyu, Ohu’s sister. “At this time, we respectfully ask for some time to reunite as a family, heal and navigate the new path forward.”
“We ask for continued prayers for our family during this time.”