INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A renewed investigation is underway into the suspicious death of 22-year-old Kyle Antonacci. He died when he was the lead witness and NCIS informant in a sexual assault trial at Great Lakes Naval Base.
Tuesday night, I Team 8 laid out the evidence and the theories it was murder. To every story, there's almost always a back story. In this case, it was one that was making national headlines.
In the military, there's a term that tonight is being alleged – it's unlawful command influence. A serious allegation that a sailor's commanding officers pushed a sexual assault case to the brink.
In May 2009, after a night of partying, a female Marine accused Navy Sailor Mike Pineda of sexual assault. NCIS reports show she called it "non-consensual.”
Pineda denied the charges. He spoke to I Team 8' Karen Hensel admitting, "We had sex that night. Consensual sex."
The alleged incident took place in the room of their friend, Kyle Antonacci, who she had a relationship with. Antonacci became a key witness in the case against Pineda. But later, Antonacci began to doubt it was sexual assault.
In statements, a fellow sailor wrote, "Upon reflecting on the events, I absolutely believe Pineda did not commit rape.” He wrote that she "regretted this decision which led to her claim she was raped after Kyle found her.”
When Antonacci wanted to change his story, he said he was threatened by Marines to stick to the story.
Pineda remembers, "He asked me one day with tears in his eyes, ‘Mike what am I supposed to do? I've told everybody. I've told NCIS. I've told the police department. The Admiral knows. What am I supposed to do?’"
- ONLINE EXTRA | Sources and information in the investigation
Antonacci detailed the threats to NCIS in a seven page handwritten plea for help. He described a threat from a Marine who said they would be in court and if he didn't testify the way they wanted it would be bad.
He described the night an X was carved on his door. When questioned if that means Antonacci is marked, Pineda replied "yes.” He says, "If their court martial was overturned by their star witness they allowed to be threatened the entire time, it would be a huge black mark on them."
I Team 8 obtained a memo from the officer who investigated the sexual assault claim. She wrote she "does not believe it would be sensible, cost-effective, efficient or just" to prosecute Pineda. Then, Pineda received an email from his military-appointed attorney who writes the "commanding officer just doesn't want to make the political decision" and "has decided to pass it up to the Admiral."
THE BACK STORY
This was happening while a sexual assault in the military was making national headlines with a public push for the military to take the cases seriously. Reporters from TIME Magazine, The New York Times and CBS all asked how big of a problem is sexual assault in the military.
Big enough that on September 8, 2009 Navy Admiral Gary Roughead held a sexual assault symposium on how the Navy should address the issue of underreported sexual assaults.
Roughead said, "There is also no question in my mind that the reports that we receive are significantly underreported. You ask me what the right number is, I can't tell you, but I can tell you that it is underreported. Although that's my Naval Academy days, and as we would go forward with a case that involved a sexual assault I knew, I absolutely knew, and it was proven time and time again that if that case was not prosecuted in a way that ended in a conviction, that we would be going silent for months thereafter."
Those comments came the same day court martial charges were handed to Pineda. Culp says, "The message he sent out to the Navy was loud and clear. If we want to solve the issue of underreported sexual assaults then we need to win the cases we take to court."
Pineda was the first in the Navy to be convicted after that symposium.
UNLAWFUL COMMAND INFLUENCE ALLEGED
Culp says key details were left out of the trial: the threats Antonacci had reported and that he'd also had sex with the woman the same night. Culp explains, "Had that defense counsel had the moral courage to say no to the panel, the military jury must know. They must know these things and we are going to tell them regardless of whether Admiral Gaiani wants us to or not. Kyle would still be alive. Kyle died because he had a secret."
Great Lakes, run by Admiral Gaiani at the time, is a key base for the US Navy where every young woman who enlists will go and be trained. Culp alleges, "There was a lot of pressure to get a conviction in this case. That pressure has a name. It's called unlawful command influence."
In an effort to clear Pineda, Kyle Antonacci became an informant for NCIS recording conversations with the woman who had made the allegations to get her to admit there was no assault. He was found dead in his room on the base hours after recording a phone call.
After Antonacci's death, Pineda was eventually cleared. Now he's working to find answers to Antonacci's death.
CASE UNDER REVIEW
The death was ruled undetermined. But after three years, it's getting a new review. Illinois State Police spent two days going over evidence we showed in I Team 8’s investigation Tuesday night.
It could soon be investigated as murder.
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