By Dianna Cahn
Copyright 2014 The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot
Jan. 20 --- He was the last man standing to shoulder the blame.
Five senior Navy divers were accused of failing to ensure that adequate safety procedures were in place when two sailors died in a training dive last year.
In the end, four accepted administrative punishment, and only Senior Chief Petty Officer James Burger -- the master diver of the company -- stood trial.
On Saturday, a day after a Navy jury convicted him of negligent dereliction of duty, Burger accepted the burden.
Turning to look across the courtroom, he spoke directly to the families of Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris.
"Not a day goes by, not an hour, a second -- that James and Ryan aren't on my mind," Burger said, as stoic in his delivery as he was throughout the trial. "They were great men, and I am truly sorry."
Then he turned to the jury -- four Navy peers: "I respect and honor your decision," he told them. "You gentlemen found the truth, and I thank you for it."
The jury could have sentenced him to a maximum of 90 days in confinement and a reduction in rank as low as seaman recruit. But after nearly two and a half hours of deliberation -- longer than they took to determine Burger's guilt -- the jury chose to reduce him a single rank, to chief petty officer.
Burger was master diver of Company 2-3 in the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek when the deaths occurred.
In its verdict Friday, the jury found that Burger had not done enough to mitigate risks ahead of the Feb. 26 dive at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a 150-foot scuba dive in cold, dark water.
At sentencing, Burger's lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. John Butler, presented evidence that he was not allowed to disclose during the trial. He told the jury that the regulators used in that dive have been removed from the Navy's list of approved equipment for deep scuba dives in 40-degree freshwater, like in Aberdeen's pond.