SAN DIEGO — Day four of the trial against sailor Ryan Mays included testimony from prosecutors’ key witness.

Petty officer Kenji Velasco is the only one who claims to have seen Mays in the “lower v” storage area of the USS Bonhomme Richard right before the fire started July 12, 2020.

At the time, the ship was docked at Naval Base San Diego. Velasco was on watch duty when he says he saw Mays walk by about six to seven feet away holding a metal bucket and heard him sarcastically say “I love deck” as he went down a ramp into the “lower v” area.

Velasco said he saw smoke about 20 minutes later and never saw Mays come back up.

Gary Barthel, Mays’ former attorney, says cross-examination revealed inconsistencies in Velasco’s story.

“Velasco admitted that he didn’t say anything to anybody on the day of the fire, that he saw anybody down there,” Barthel said.

The defense pointed out and Velasco admitted that during the initial investigation, he told NCIS and ATF agents he didn’t get a good look at the person who went down and didn’t recognize him.

Velasco was interviewed eight times. Investigators took samples of his DNA and he became worried he’d be blamed for starting the fire.

“He alluded to that on his cross-examination that people were pointing to him as being a potential person of interest with regard to the fire in addition to that he was feeling pressured by NCIS and as he testified he was scared,” Barthel said.

Velasco eventually brought up Mays’ name after another sailor suggested Mays started the fire.
Petty officer Matthew Betz testified a group of sailors gathered and speculated on what happened and then he said, “It could have been Mays.”

Prosecutors say Mays started the fire because he was disgruntled after dropping out of Seal training.

“I don’t think the witnesses that the government is presented thus far seem to support their theory that he was this disgruntled sailor who was a madman waiting to burn the ship down,” Barthel said.

If convicted, Mays could get life in prison.

On Friday, testimony is expected from NCIS and another sailor, then the government could rest its case.

The defense could then make a motion to dismiss, based on a lack of evidence.

If the judge grants the motion, it’s over. If he overrules, the defense would then begin its case.