Who Killed Col. James Sabow?

Was Marine Corps Col. James Sabow the victim of a military cover-up?

The increasingly testy Stotler occasionally challenged Sheehan's skills as a lawyer, at one point observing, "Counsel, that is literally the worst question I have ever heard in my life." When Sheehan repeatedly pressed NCIS agent Mike Barrett about the quality of the Navy's original death investigation, Stotler intervened again. "That has nothing to do with this case," she told Sheehan. "Do you have any other questions for this witness?"

On the fifth day, the Justice Department asked Stotler to end the trial; the plaintiffs had called all their witnesses and hadn't proved a thing, the government attorneys argued. Stotler said she would consider it; 24 hours later, on the afternoon of Jan. 27, it was clear that she had had enough. "I am prepared to grant the defense's motion. I don't need to hear any further testimony at this point," she announced with finality, just moments before Adams was supposed to take the stand. "It's pretty apparent that, looking only at the plaintiff's testimony, their allegations have not been met by the evidence."

Sheehan hadn't just failed to prove a vast conspiracy involving drug running, covert flights and murder. He had also failed to prove the government acted maliciously in a death investigation. Well before Stotler finished her concluding remarks, Dr. Sabow was outside the courtroom. In the hallway, he confronted Adams, who was leaving the witness room with his lawyer.

"General Adams, you killer!" he snarled.

Adams didn't even turn around, disappearing around the curve of the building.

"You fucking bastard! You killed him! You bunch of fucking fascists!"

Shaking with anger, Dr. Sabow hadn't quite finished. He let out one final roar.

"This is not over yet, you killer!"

After being convicted of misuse of government aircraft as a result of the investigation that preceded Sabow's death, Marine Corps General Wayne Adams, who spent a brief tour in Quantico after leaving El Toro, quickly retired, taking a job at a private military school—but not before he fired Colonel Joe Underwood. Underwood paid a $3,000 fine, pleaded guilty to the charges, and quickly left the Marine Corps and moved to Florida. Neither Underwood nor Adams was available to be interviewed for this story.

Both men have steadfastly maintained their innocence in the death of Sabow. In June 1996, the OIG reviewed the Navy's original investigation into Sabow's death, reaffirming its finding of suicide and officially rebutting the Sabow family's allegations that the Marine Corps covered up Sabow's murder after he threatened to expose covert operations at El Toro.

The OIG interviewed Adams and Underwood for its report. "Colonel Underwood denied any knowledge or involvement in covert activities of any kind," the report stated. "He also denied involvement in or knowledge of unannounced landings of C-130 aircraft at MCAS El Toro during his assignment there. . . . During our interview, we specifically asked Colonel Underwood if he had murdered Colonel Sabow or if he had any knowledge of foul play in the death of Colonel Sabow. Colonel Underwood denied all allegations that he had anything to do with the death of Colonel Sabow."

The OIG report also claimed to have found no credible evidence to support any allegations that Underwood or anyone else at El Toro was involved in covert operations. This claim was based on interviews with 21 Marine Corps personnel at El Toro, including Sergeant Randall Robinson. Robinson, a military policeman (MP), told OIG investigators that one day, he had gone to Underwood's office to brief him on an investigation, accompanied by another MP identified only by her last name, Harries. "During the conversation, the topic of aircraft landing late at night came up," the OIG report stated. According to Robinson, Underwood told them, "Keep your ass off the airstrip at night. Leave those airplanes alone. Don't go near them. Don't worry about them. Don't go near them."

Robinson also told OIG investigators that because of his often late-night schedule, "sometimes he would see an aircraft taking off at 4 a.m. He told us the aircraft were C-130s that were painted black with no markings on the tail, wings, fuselage, or anywhere else. He stated that, through binoculars, the crew appeared to have shoulder-length hair and that he assumed they were civilians. The flights began about four to six months prior to Colonel Sabow's death. Mr. Robinson stated that prior to that, he had worked regular daytime hours and may not have noticed the aircraft since they operated only at night. He told us that junior troops had told him they saw aircraft landing at night, parking at the end of the runway and taking off shortly after they arrived."

OIG investigators interviewed Robinson's eyewitness to Underwood's alleged tirade, Captain Harries. According to the report, Harries hadn't heard anything about "any strange aircraft using the airfield late at night under unusual circumstances" but "stated that Colonel Underwood had placed a number of unreasonable restrictions on her and the MPs. However," the report concluded, "she did not remember any incident in his office when she was ordered to keep MPs away from any aircraft."

While the OIG said it found no evidence to support the conclusion that Sabow was murdered, Sheehan's lawsuit contains what purports to be unassailable direct eyewitness testimony showing that Sabow was murdered. That allegation is based on the claims of "Mr. X," whom Dr. Sabow identified as an ex-Marine Corps official, now a law-enforcement officer somewhere in the southwestern United States. Sheehan refused to identify Mr. X or produce him for interviews either with military investigators or the media.

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