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Lawyer Claims Sailor Has Been Cleared in Iowa Blast

June 03, 1989|From United Press International

WASHINGTON — The lawyer for a sailor who was investigated after the April 19 explosion aboard the battleship Iowa said Friday that his client has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the blast that killed 47 people.

The Navy said its investigation is continuing.

Ellis Rubin, representing Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Kendall L. Truitt, 21, said he has "a lot of information" about the investigation, but Rubin declined to detail his evidence, only citing news reports to support his contention that Truitt is no longer the subject of the investigation.

"It's my information that he's going to be cleared," Rubin told a news conference. When asked if the Navy had told him that, Rubin said: "No."

'Special Relationship'

"His name has finally been cleared," added Truitt's wife, Carole, "and he's no longer being considered a murderer and a homosexual." She referred to reports that Truitt and another sailor aboard the Iowa had a "special relationship" that deteriorated when Truitt got married six months ago.

Truitt has denied a homosexual relationship with his friend and said that they were the subject of shipboard rumors simply because they did not drink and smoke, like most other shipmates.

Truitt had been mentioned in news reports, based on leaks from Pentagon sources, as possibly being involved in a murder or suicide plot with his friend, Clayton M. Hartwig, who died in the explosion.

Hartwig had made Truitt the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy.

The Navy, meanwhile, said that "despite continuing speculative media reports," its investigation is not over. A six-man board of inquiry headed by Rear Adm. Richard Milligan has been looking into the blast. Investigators have reportedly found no specific cause of the blast in the ship's No. 2 gun turret.

"Press reports of possible contributive action by a member of the Iowa crew are speculative," a statement issued Friday said. "The Navy has not discussed the investigation publicly and such reports merely reflect a determination by the Naval Investigative Service to explore every aspect of the accident for possible causes.

'No Charges Made'

"While the possibility of human involvement is being carefully pursued, no charges have been made and it is not appropriate to comment or speculate about the investigation until it is completed," the statement continued.

In another development, NBC News reported Friday night that Hartwig was often despondent and aloof, and that he reportedly told a crew mate: "If you've got to go, go in a blast. You go quick. You go painless."

Mentioned Ship Blast

The man told investigators that Hartwig showed off a $15 timer available in hobby stores and said that if it were rigged to a battery it could set off the ship's gunpowder and start a chain of explosions, NBC said.

The network quoted sources as saying they believed Hartwig lived in a fantasy world and told relatives of an upcoming transfer to London that the Navy said he had not been given.

Defense Department spokesman Air Force Maj. Alan Freitag said he could not comment on reports about the Iowa investigation until the Navy completes it.

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