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Gallagher Trial Concludes

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Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher is a free man after being acquitted of murder. SeaWorld is bouncing back, but PETA remains a strong opponent. USC admits blame for poaching a UC San Diego's research program.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 A big win for the defense. Navy seal. Eddie Gallagher is found not guilty of murder charges in his high profile military trial. Seaworld is bouncing back following years of sagging attendance, but more storm clouds loom for the theme park on Mission Bay and USC at myths to an ethical breach worth $50 million plus an apology to UC SD for poaching a key Alzheimer's research team. Hi Mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:36 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:41 welcome to our discussion to the weak stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh, reporter Gary Robbins from the San Diego Union Tribune and also from the ut Laurie Weisberg, who covers tourism and marketing. Well, the charges centered on war crimes. The military trial was highly publicized and politicized, but the jury came back this week in favor of the defendant and Steve, you are there when navy seal, uh, Eddie Edward Gallagher, Eddie Gallaghers, he was known, heard the verdict, uh, explain good news for him. And was this surprising and expected?

Speaker 3: 01:17 Well, uh, when the initial verdict was read out, um, there was a lot of jubilation, a lot of hugging on the part of the defense and in part of Eddie and his, his wife Andrea, and, uh, his brother Sean, who had gone on conservative media and, uh, really had made his case over the last several months. Um, he was acquitted of, uh, six of the seven war crimes that he was charged with, including all of the most serious ones. Um, murder for, uh, uh, killing a wounded detainee in his custody, attempted murder using his sniper rifle, uh, uh, in with an older white man and a young woman. Um, but then there was one charge that he was convicted of, which was posing with a corpse on the battlefield. Uh, and so when he came back on, uh, for the sentencing and military court that go right into the sentencing and he was given on this lesser charge, the maximum four months, and that seemed to be unexpected. Uh, it didn't appear as though the Gallaghers were expecting that he was going to lose his, a chiefs rang deducted one. And, and uh, be a quit, uh, have to spend four months in jail because of that. Uh, Eddie Gallagher was there. He was expected to speak afterwards, but then, uh, he got up and he left along with his wife, a Dunkin Hunter was there, the congressman I and he also got up and drove away and there was a leaving only his attorneys to then face the media.

Speaker 1: 02:45 No, a, they remind us of the specifics on that charge. The, he was convicted on it was, it was holding this a dead Isis fighters head. Right. And what were the specifics on that? He's talking about his knife.

Speaker 3: 02:56 Exactly. Boy, if you're a prosecutor and could you think of anything better than you have a photo of your suspects holding the head of, of the victim with his knife underneath him with the caption that he texted out. Good story. Got them with my hunting knife. It seemed like in many ways it was a slam dunk case, but clearly it was not.

Speaker 1: 03:18 Yeah, a prosecution. We talked about it before on the show, but they had also to troubles a last minute substitution on the prosecution team. Not, not a good showing for them.

Speaker 3: 03:29 No, no, no. It, you had the prosecutors being removed from their case, a lead prosecutor for allegations of spying on the defense by putting these email trackers in, in emails that were sent the defense and into reporter at navy time to try to attract the source of all these leaked documents in the case. Uh, that threw a wrench into this. And then of course you had, uh, on the stand and this was one of the prosecution's biggest witnesses, Corey Scott, the medic that was there with Gallagher. He had said he prosecutors expected him to say what he did say that he saw Gallagher a stab this, this isis fighter. What they didn't expect is when during cross examination, um, by the defense that he was going to say that it Gallagher then got up and left and that, uh, Cory Scott says he fixated that prisoner. He killed himself by closing off his, his breathing tube saying he was a mercy killing. He didn't want him to fall in the hands of the Rockies.

Speaker 1: 04:26 Now it's fair to say Gallagher and the end maybe had better attorneys than the government.

Speaker 3: 04:30 Um, he had a couple of very high profile New York attorneys, uh, Markman [inaudible], uh, who has been Trump's attorney, Tim Parlett, Tory also out of New York City. Um, uh, they mounted what was probably an incredibly expensive defense paid for by this free Eddie campaign. Uh, and in sometimes it felt like they were running circles around the process.

Speaker 1: 04:50 And tell us about the jury. In this case, a, it's obviously it's military court and a lot of viewers and listeners are used to following cases in state court, in federal court, but this is a whole different [inaudible] who are the jurors and they didn't really say anything publicly, did they?

Speaker 3: 05:03 No. In fact, the judge admonished them at the end that they were not to say anything publicly. Obviously this is a military, uh, jury. Um, there were only seven. This is actually, uh, the, among the last few cases where there will only be that few, the rules are changing. So it at least has to be a minimum of eight on the jury. Five Marines, uh, two navy, one of them, a commander, the other one to see you and Avco.

Speaker 1: 05:28 So these are experienced folks, combat veterans here and they found them not guilty. The worst charges.

Speaker 3: 05:34 Recognizing all that you just said, were you still surprised by the verdict? You know, if you've ever covered a trial, reporters are, are incredibly difficult to, to Kim is, we never think the prosecutor quite makes their case surprised with all of these twists and turns in here. It, it was one surprise after another. You also had a marine raider, um, who said that? Uh, uh, he, he was posing with the body as well and the, the bandage came open and he saw no stab wounds at all on the neck. So there was always these constant bombshell testimony. It was very hard to tell in the end where this was going to play out. I will say after that verdict, we were found not guilty of the most serious charges. Most of us were thinking that he was just going to walk. And I think Eddie Gallagher himself thought he was going to just simply walk on that when they gave him that maximum, only four months for this one, it was time served, right.

Speaker 3: 06:26 And it was time served so he could get up and leave. But still that's on his record. And in fact, as soon as that was red, he turned to, uh, to the folks who were in the audience and did one of these, he had his anchors, his chief anchors, and he went like that in a mock tossing to say that there goes my chief. Yeah. Laurie. So afterwards, I think he was interviewed and maybe this was on Fox where he was going after, I think some of 'em fellow service men who, who testified against him. But you always think of the navy seals as a community that really stands together. If they don't, they will all, you know, one for one for all, for one watch the back. Was that surprising to see or is that just myth and we don't realize that that isn't that unified of a group.

Speaker 3: 07:11 Oh No, it's incredibly secretive. Um, these sorts of charges are very rarely become public then. Yes, it was all of this was based on seven seals who were granted immunity to testify against him. And you've got to understand that there are other careers at stake here. One of these seals has gone on to be an instructor at Bud's here at cornetto. Another one's had already gone on to what is called the development group, which is more commonly known as seal team six, the most elite. Um, but he said on the stand that he didn't think he would ever deploy now with seal team six because his name is now become public.

Speaker 1: 07:45 Yeah. This really, it'd be, get beyond the defendant in this case. This has the ripples for a lot of people involved with prosecution too.

Speaker 3: 07:53 Indeed. You've got to have to wonder, there's gotta be a lot of soul searching. Um, the lead investigator from enabled investigator, uh, Joe War Pinsky from NCS. He'd only been there two and a half years before he was given the lead investigation of this incredibly, what you would imagine would be a very high profile war crimes trial. Um, the defense made a lot of that. That said they're just a lot of mistakes. Of course, on the other side of this, um, many of the seals who were testifying under immunity were incredibly reluctant. They did not want to go, so it made it harder for the prosecution to interview their witnesses in advance and in the end, the defense, um, showed all the reasonable doubt that they needed to, to have him acquitted and then most of these charges.

Speaker 1: 08:35 All right, we've got about a minute left in the segment. I wanted to talk a little bit about the impact, if any, all of this has on the reputation of this, of the elite seals program. I mean, it had a pretty sterling reputation has had. Yeah,

Speaker 3: 08:46 sure. I would think that the bigger impact is going to be on NCS and, and uh, and the Jag community in general. This, again, this seemed the beginning to be a slam dunk for prosecutors. You're not going to get a photo of, of the defendant with the actual murder warrant. Suppose the murder weapon in your hand with text basically confessing to it. But when it comes to the seals, I mean these, um, we send special operations forces into all sorts of parts of the world because they know how to follow the rules, including not posing with a corpse in the battlefield, which can become propaganda. So

Speaker 1: 09:21 yeah, it's a gift to the terrorists.

Speaker 3: 09:23 Indeed. In fact, the, the lead commander in Iraq at that time said basically that on the stand that they did not want to see these kinds of, so going forward this year, you're, there's a tremendous amount of trust they have to work with partner forces around the world. Um, it's going to raise some questions.

Speaker 1: 09:39 All right, we'll move on, but we'll certainly watch the fall out there going forward. It was quite a trial coordinate incident. The black mark left by blackfish is finally fading away. Seaworld this past year, racked up impressive gains and attendance, a surgeon value of its stock and good reason to think the battle days are over, at least for now. And Laurie, let's start by reminding us about blackfish and the devastating effect that documentary had on the, uh, our theme park here.

Speaker 4: 10:04 So that was a documentary that was released in 2013 it focused on a particular killer whale Tillikum who was responsible for we mail, remember the 2010 drowning death of a trainer at the Orlando Park. Um, and the, the documentary was meant to show what they, what the filmmaker thought. And, and though those interview and former trainers was ill treatment of the orkis at the seaworld parks, that these are huge animals and they're, and they're confined in these, what they call small tanks and, and they shouldn't, it shouldn't be. And it was, it's so big impact. It had a big impact when we now has come to be known as the black fish effect. Um, yeah, it, year after year after year, um, um, revenues and attendance went down across, we don't, they don't break it down by park, but across all of their 12 parks and especially in Orlando and very much so in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 10:59 Well, give us a sense of that. I mean, how much did it, did a drop in terms of attendance and talking about the stock price to which has come back.

Speaker 4: 11:06 So the stock price in the last year double, because last year was the first year in and um, in three years that that attendance rose. Um, and then San Diego especially had, it had been dipping every year, millions. It, it rose by 22%. It was the highest percentage gain of any theme park in the world. Um, so it was obviously coming from an off a low bar. So that was, it seemed like a remarkable turnaround from the days of, as I said, the blackfish effect when nothing they could do nothing. Right.

Speaker 1: 11:36 And we're going to get into the turnaround at some of the changes here, but several CEOs come and gone here and you know, visitors were talking about guilt for going there because of the blog.

Speaker 4: 11:46 Right, right. There was, there was a CEO that stepped down early on and they brought in a new CEO, Joel Mamby, who came from a Dollywood theme parks. And, um, he, he made a remarkable change in that they got rid of the captive breeding of workers and they're going to phase out the old Shambhu shows. But it wasn't enough. But that was the big thing that was big. He thought that would make a difference. And he stepped down. Um, three, um, yeah, so a couple of years so that now they have a new CEO.

Speaker 3: 12:15 Okay, well let's get into that. Um, you know, you, you said here's what they gotten rid of. What have they added on? Yeah.

Speaker 4: 12:21 So what some thing is, aside from just memories fading of Blackfish, um, a lot of people think that the reason it's turning around is they've gone big on theme park too. Traditional theme park rides, they're always supposed to have an educational component, but lots of roller coasters. San Diego's had two roller coasters in the last few years and the third, um, it's supposed to be the tallest yet is coming next year. Orlando has gotten more thrilled park rides. So they think that's, um, how helping. And then they really are, you could argue something about bargain compared to like Disneyland and universal, which they'll never be able to compete with. But I'm so they, they're, they advertise all these promotional passes and they rely a lot on annual pass holders, locals who go. So that's really helped. So more coaster park with fish. Okay. Exactly. Here I found myself,

Speaker 3: 13:10 I'm wondering whether they could sustain that after your story about the way they use dolphins and people complaining about putting humans on the top of dolphins and the photography. It seemed like an extension of the orchids.

Speaker 4: 13:22 Right. So that blow back. That is so, yeah. And as I wrote in my story, so God that you don't think they're jubilant now, but maybe it's premature to be jubilant because Peter who was part of this campaign, anti killer whale campaign, anti killer, well captivity campaign, remind us what Peters and egrets people for the ethical treatment of animals. Um, now obviously they couldn't fight. See alone the, that documentary really helped. So now they just launched a campaign going after, see ruled for keeping the dolphins in captivity for breeding them and for the shows, which are, as you point out of a throwback to the old killer whale shows where the trainers are actually in the water writing the ant animals. You haven't seen that in years with the killer whale shows that used to be a typical of the shampoos shows, but that's long gone and yet this is still going on. So the question is, well, this campaign, it's, it depends on how viral it will go. Well that shame people again into not going into seaworld. Hmm.

Speaker 3: 14:20 Well that's always been with this. Um, and, and I'm not saying they should go after the San Diego Zoo, but what makes it a seaworld so much different from the zoo? I mean, they have lions in captivity and in a small enclosure that they can't wander the Savannah and San Diego. What makes seaworld so much different from the San Diego, which has such a sterling reputation.

Speaker 4: 14:42 Right. And so I asked the person that I interviewed for the story from Peta, she's been with them for 27 years. And I said, well, why don't you, after the zoos to, um, because the zoo accredited just like it's accredited. And so their campaign on the zoo side of things, they've been going after the unaccredited zoos that are so bad, they only have so many resources. So that's their priority. That's their first line priority. And they equate seaworld to these at the level of these unaccredited zoos. So they have only so many resources. So they're not going to go after the accredited zoo. They're going to go after unaccredited zoos and then see rolled to them stands apart.

Speaker 1: 15:19 And it's because of the shows, because they're, they're writing them and yeah,

Speaker 4: 15:22 and it would think, and you don't, they say that these, these animals, you know, um, route miles and you know, at sea, but they can hear, but you would think the same of the zoo animals right out in the wild. They can roam forever too. So I know it does seem contradictory and that in part of me thinks it's just a matter of resources and that's why they're not going after the San Diego Zoo as well.

Speaker 1: 15:44 Of course, the zoo would make the argument, we talked about this before on the show that that they're, they really set the, the model for big expansive exhibits and places to Rome. Course you have the, uh, the, uh, Safari Park, uh, in North county there with literally a lot more. Yeah.

Speaker 4: 15:59 And I think, I think for a while they were, their big campaign was, um, not holding elephants in captivity and they have, they have had success with that.

Speaker 1: 16:07 Um, all right. And, and just to, to, uh, to finish up on the changes here, the, they've got a festivals, nighttime parade, more things. You'd see it at Disney land and some of the other theme parks they are trying to,

Speaker 4: 16:17 yeah, it's very much like they've got, okay, well, obviously Disney land has star wars and universal has Harry Potter and see what it has sesame street. But they do have a, they do have a parade playing off their sesame street intellectual property and it, and it works. Or they're getting, you know, younger families that, that like that they can sell merchandise that's theme to Selfie Street. So that, that works.

Speaker 1: 16:39 [inaudible] uh, one other question I had regarding Peter and you said the, they do have a hill to climb here and all a, what's the world's response to their claims in all of this? Um, regarding the dolphin,

Speaker 4: 16:50 they said, oh, this is just so obvious. This is so pita. There is a publicity stunt. They're not the veterinary experts. We are, if we were doing anything with the dolphins that was injurious or harmful to them, we would stop it immediately. Um, that this, they, they, they seem nothing wrong with their doing and they, they're not going, even though they change things with the color wheel show, they say they're not going to change the dolphin shows.

Speaker 1: 17:15 Okay. So we'll see what happens going forward. But right now the, a tendance figures and the stock prices her, right. It's an interesting update. All right. We are gonna move on. Well. It was a brazen move that ignited a bitter years long legal dispute. Top administrators at the University of Southern California secretly stole away the top Alzheimer's researcher and his lab staff from the University of California, San Diego. But this week saw a stunning turnabout. USC agreed to pay $50 million to ucs d and apologized here I'm unit. We did one of the stories carry that kind of just popped up the page. Whoa, I'm familiar with that story.

Speaker 5: 17:50 And when did this happen? So start with what happened back in in 2015 is kind of a midnight raid to understand this, you actually have to go back a year earlier than that. This is story about money and prestige and ego. USC wanted to have a bigger standing in the sciences. It's big bet. One of the biggest standing and a particularly wanted it in the life sciences, so turned its attention to San Diego county where there are five major life science institutions. He went in and tried to either acquire or buy in scripts research faculty found out and there was an uproar that one by Sanford Burnham, they couldn't get in there. They tried to get him in another place and then they turned their attention to UC San Diego. Now on the faculty, there was a guy named Paul Isen. He was UC San Diego Faculty. He had it up there, really big Alzheimer's research program.

Speaker 5: 18:37 Isen decided that he wasn't getting enough support from the university. So he turned to USC and said, maybe we should do something here. So the particulars of who did what are kind of up in the air, but what happened in the end was isen and some of his other staff who were UC San Diego staff took control of the computers, that information that was coming into the program and they turned to the sponsors, the financial sponsors of the research and they got most of the support there. They effectively took over the program. This drove UC San Diego. Crazy. Um, so UC San Diego sued and they've gone through a lot of machinations, but it finally ended this week when, um, USC had to make this big public apology. It's something that I've never seen done in an academia where they said, you know, we didn't do this the right way. We should not have gone in and done that or we should not have done interrupted our research.

Speaker 5: 19:28 And in addition to that, there's a $50 million penalty they have to pay in the end. I'm not sure why, who really gets ahead and who gets behind. Um, they have to pay $15 million, but when they came and took over the program, they got more than $90 million in contracts and they established a small lab in San Diego County. So they do have a little bit of a beachhead here. Um, yeah, university research team is still up there, uh, at USC, right? Yeah. So Item B count becomes part of USC. That's how this all gets pulled off. Right. And UFC. Apparently you're saying that he's going to remain on their faculty even though they're apologizing and said this should never have been done. So he has, um, you know, a lab that's not that far from the campus. He's going to continue operating it. Um, UC San Diego lost a lot of money in all this. Uh, they lost that $90 million and they say they lost $343 million in money they could've gotten if there wasn't this big disruption.

Speaker 4: 20:24 It is, it's part of this, um, I thought I read this in the story, but it's part of this that they could be more collaborative now that they've lost its over the settlement. Will, will they work collaboratively or, or no. Is it still going to be this major rivalry?

Speaker 5: 20:39 I think there's going to be a major rivalry for another reason. Uh, one of the reasons that no one in San Diego seemed to want USC here was they didn't USC coming in with this great ability to raise private donations coming into San Diego County. They didn't want USC to come in here and start tapping on the big donors of Orange County like Irwin Jacobs and Conrad previs the Conrad premise and Denny Sanford. They didn't want that kind of competition here. They're just not welcome. Plus they also thought USC was trying to buy prestige rather than develop it. So rather than develop their own scientific programs, they were coming into acquiring institution or acquire a piece of us of UC San Diego that is not going to be easily forgotten. Now, there's an intriguing subplot to this whole thing and that's the a USC school of Medicine Dean who was supposedly the mastermind be hollow behind all of this.

Speaker 5: 21:29 Your sister paper, the La Times had a tremendous expos and give us, give us the thumbnail on that one. So they did. They did say that, but I still find this whole entry confusing. They talk about eyes and turning to him and to the provost and everybody saying this would be a really good idea. I'm not clear in the end who exactly did what all that we know is it was wrong and that USC had to make a public apology and pay a lot of money and they talked about we breached ethics. This isn't done. They did. I mean the play does devil's advocate. You could say, well you've got a superstar, a researcher here, you know, ball teams go after a superstar and they recruit them in and throw big bucks on them. And, and they did throw big boy. He was making a lot more money going to USC, right?

Speaker 5: 22:10 Well personally, but USC offered to give him a lot more money and to uh, loan him money and then to cut what that, what are your bar? There was a big financial incentive for Isen to join the USC faculty and move that program into the possession of USC. Um, now UC San Diego is one of the big research institutions. It goes out and hires people from other institutions all of the time. That's a known game that everybody plays. What was done here though was secrets. In fact, there was Isen and some of his staff and they came to be known as double agents because they were posing as UC San Diego in interests. But following the interests of USC, I know this is very confusing. It really is very confused. That's why it's so intriguing because you don't think of academia here to have these kind of hardball attackings and a tree.

Speaker 5: 22:59 Any culpability in this. I mean obviously he's paying the $50 million fine. It just kind of come out of this clean, you know, that's a question that wasn't really fully resolve this week. So the, the apology says that Isen shouldn't have done this. USC should have done this. There was no indication that Isen was going to be fired, for example, for having participated in this. Uh, my colleague Bradley fixe called eyes in and said, how are things going? Are you going to continue to run your lab or you can going to continue to be part of USC? And was told yes. I mean, his lab is continuing to operate, operate. He's still part of USC. He didn't want to talk further than that. He wants to turn his his attention entirely back to the work. So it's unclear. And this, I'll go ahead with all these machinations. Do we know what the impact was on Alzheimer's research? Did this cause any delays? And actually getting into some,

Speaker 1: 23:49 because the nice overall, you see a lot of promising stuff on Alzheimer's, but what about this in particular?

Speaker 5: 23:54 But once again, we're in this situation where it's hard to say what the impact was. Isen was working on a study called [inaudible]. It was a big clinical trial and it did go forth, but when you have all of these institutions fighting, it wasn't just USC and UC San Diego, it was the other institutions that were helping funded. You have to wonder how distracted people came at a time when there were supposed to be focusing on solving Alzheimer's disease. So I can't quantify it, but you've got to think that all of the fighting had a bad impact on carrying programs forth and starting new programs.

Speaker 1: 24:27 We got about a minute left. The apology from USC that came from the top right from the president. And talk about that a little bit in the response here at new CSD. Were they quite gracious about it or what?

Speaker 5: 24:38 Um, it did come from the top. It was written in a very legalistic way. I talked to David Brenner, who's vice chairman, vice chancellor for health sciences. Um, David is a very kind of in your face person, he'll tell you that. And he, he was glad that the, uh, that, that the apology was made, you know, it's like David was humiliated by what happened because David was ultimately responsible for this whole thing. And in the end he feels like, um, you know, he's come out on the right side of it, but it was a big humiliation. He has been angry about this for a long time and he was glad to see that there was not only an apology, but that money is being paid to UC San Diego in recognition that they suffered as a result of what happened. Okay.

Speaker 1: 25:18 Quickly, a just a couple seconds left. A, there was a lawsuit. It's for your court in San Diego, and that goes away with this, and it would maybe be, USC was seeing it was going to be tough to prevail there. Who Knew?

Speaker 5: 25:28 Yeah, so this settled the lawsuit, which started back in 2015

Speaker 1: 25:31 very good. All right. Fascinating story. Really interesting this week. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I like to thank my guests, Steve Walsh of KPBS News, Carrie Robbins of the San Diego Union Tribune, and Lori Weisberg also have the Union Tribune reminder. All the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and joining us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.