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Ashby Found Not Guilty in Italian Cable Car Accident

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CAMP LEJEUNE — A military jury has found U.S. Marine Capt. Richard Ashby not guilty of 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with an Italian cable car accident.

"Basically, all I really want to say is this has been a tragedy for all involved," Ashby said. "My heart, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy."

Ashby's first words in public since his court-martial began were brief. They came shortly after a Marine jury returned its verdict just before noon Thursday.

Ashby was accused of cutting a cable car wire by flying his EA-6B Prowler too low, too fast and too dangerously over an Italian ski resort in February 1998.

An attorney for the family of one of the victims says the families are very upset that there has been no compensation from the U.S. government for the loss.

"It is just... shock," says Cindy Renkewitz, a young German woman who lost her father and sister in the accident. She did not accept Ashby's statement of remorse.

"He didn't show us at anytime that he feels sorry for what he has done," she said. "There was nothing. I mean he could have at least apologized to us, but he didn't do anything like that."

"This is also a very, very sad day for the Marine Corps," says the victims' attorney John Eaves. "This is not something that we should be proud of."

In closing arguments, lead prosecutor Major Daniel Daugherty said Wednesday that Ashby had no good reason to fly as low as he did, as quickly as he did, particularly given the homes and churches in the valleys below.

Ashby's attorney, Frank Spinner, says the valley caused an optical illusion that tricked the pilot. He says the whole case comes down to the moments between when Ashby saw the cable and when his jet snapped it.

The jury received the case at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, broke for the night at 6:30 p.m., and resumed deliberations Thursday morning.

The jury was made up of eight members of the military from Camp Lejeune, all officers either at or above Ashby's rank. A few members of the jury had flying experience. Much of the trial was spent educating people about what pilots experience in a situation like the one in Italy.

Family members had been standing by to testify in the event of a penalty phase.

Civil suits are pending.

Ashby is still grounded and faces a second court-martial on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly destroying a videotape of the flight. Some military observers at the trial say even being found not guilty in a case of this magnitude could be a career-ender.

Capt. Joseph Schweizter, the navigator, still faces a court-martial. Charges were dropped against the two backseat members of the crew.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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