Captain cleared in Tailhook assault


WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps dropped all charges yesterday against a Marine captain who had been charged with sexually molesting Lt. Paula Coughlin, the admiral's aide and Navy aviator who first spoke out about the debauchery that occurred at the 1991 Tailhook convention.

In essence, the Marine Corps decided that Lieutenant Coughlin might have identified the wrong man, and it dismissed the most celebrated case that arose out of the Tailhook incident.

The Marine Corps said in a statement that there was no doubt that Lieutenant Coughlin had been assaulted at the convention two years ago at a Las Vegas hotel. But the Corps said Lt. Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the officer ordered to supervise the Marine prosecutions from Tailhook, had decided there had not been enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial against the captain, Gregory Bonam, a 29-year-old aviator whom Lieutenant Coughlin had named as her most brazen assailant.

Lieutenant Coughlin had said Captain Bonam and others assaulted her in a hotel hallway. But at a hearing in Quantico, Va., in August, Captain Bonam denied that he had been in the hallway.

Lieutenant Coughlin had said she was able to identify Captain Bonam as the man who first bumped her and then reached over her shoulders and thrust his hands down her blouse because of his unusual coloring. She said the man was a light-skinned black or Hispanic man with strikingly light-colored eyes, a description that fit Captain Bonam.

But the captain's lawyers presented a vast amount of evidence to challenge her testimony. For example, the lawyers also showed that while viewing photos, Lieutenant Coughlin had first picked out a Marine corporal who had not been at the convention as her assailant.

Lieutenant Coughlin, 31, who is stationed in Norfolk, Va., with Helicopter Support Squadron 2, did not return telephone calls.

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