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Key witness takes stand in USS Bonhomme Richard arson case

Defense points out inconsistencies in testimony of sailor on watch the morning of the fire.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Seaman Kenji Velasco may be the most important witness to take the stand in the preliminary hearing of a sailor accused of setting the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard on July 12, 2020.

On Tuesday, Velasco testified he was “100% sure" that he saw Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays walk down to the lower vehicle storage area of the ship, minutes before the fire started in that same area.

Velasco also testified he heard Mays sarcastically say, "I love deck" as he walked down the ramp, a phrase he had heard Mays say previously.

Mays was carrying a heavy bucket, according to Valasco. Days after the fire, Velasco asked Mays if he had gone down to the Lower V area and Mays responded “yes,” Velasco testified.

The problem with Velasco's testimony is he keeps changing his story, according to the defense.

On cross examination, the witness admitted he told NCIS investigators just 10 days after the fire started, that he was only "fairly certain" and "90% sure" the person he saw was Mays.

During earlier interviews with NCIS, Velasco described the sailor as an "unknown male" and said it was "hard to see the person's face" because the suspected arsonist was wearing a mask and head covering.

When the judge asked Velasco why he had not identified Mays early on, he responded, “I wanted to make sure it was him that I saw, and I didn't want to mention any other names,"

Later in Tuesday's hearing, a chief petty officer testified Mays was disgruntled after dropping out of Navy SEAL training, with disciplinary problems and a disrespectful attitude.

The preliminary hearing is expected to wrap up after defense witnesses testify on Wednesday.

WATCH RELATED: Sailor accused in fire that ravaged the USS Bonhomme Richard appears in court (December 2021)

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