Two former Navy football players face court-martial in alleged sexual assault

The superintendent of the Naval Academy has referred two former members of the Navy football team to a court-martial on charges that they sexually assaulted a fellow midshipman while she was incapacitated at a party in Annapolis, the academy said Thursday.

Attorneys for Midshipmen Joshua Tate and Eric Graham said the decision by Vice Adm. Michael Miller went beyond the recommendation of a military judge who presided over a preliminary hearing in the case.

The attorneys said Cmdr. Robert P. Monahan Jr., the judge in the eight-day hearing last summer, recommended that no one be court-martialed. Monahan's report to Miller has not been made public.

Now Tate, a junior at the academy, is charged with aggravated sexual assault and Graham, a senior, is charged with abusive sexual contact. Both are charged with making false official statements.

A third former football player was not referred to a court-martial. A decision has not been made on whether Midshipman Tra'ves Bush will receive an administrative punishment, an academy spokesman said.

The case has drawn national attention as concern rises over sexual assaults within the military. The Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 the year before.

The hearing in late August and early September revealed details of a sex- and alcohol-fueled party scene at the elite training ground for future officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.

The alleged victim testified that she drank heavily before and during the off-campus party in April 2012.

The Baltimore Sun does not name alleged victims of sexual assaults.

During more than 22 hours on the stand over four days, the woman said she had only vague memories of most of the night. She said she learned later from friends and through social media that members of the football team were saying that they had had sex with her.

The woman said repeatedly that she didn't know whether a crime had been committed, and that she hoped that the process would establish the truth of what happened.

The accused midshipmen did not testify during the hearing and have not commented publicly on the charges against them.

An attorney for Tate expressed disappointment with Miller's decision. Attorney Jason Ehrenberg said Monahan's recommendation "was not to court-martial any of these young men.

"We're confident if our client gets a fair trial at the court-martial, he'll be vindicated," he said.

Ronald "Chip" Herrington, an attorney for Graham, said Miller "rejected the findings and rejected the facts" in Monahan's report. He said he believes Graham will be exonerated.

"We have no doubt that [Miller's] decision is the result of political pressure, which, unfortunately, he was not able to bear," Herrington said.

The announcement Thursday came days after a federal court rejected a motion by the alleged victim's attorney to remove Miller from the case. Attorney Susan Burke argued that the superintendent was biased against her client.

Military law gives Miller the authority to decide whether or not to prosecute. He is not bound by Monahan's recommendation.

An academy spokesman said Monahan found reasonable grounds existed to believe that Graham and Tate committed the sex offenses of which they are accused.

Cmdr. John Schofield, the spokesman, said Miller based his decision on Monahan's report and on advice from lawyers from the academy and Naval District Washington.

Bush completed the requirements of his degree last spring but was not commissioned an officer with his class in May. His official status is "delayed graduate," Schofield said.

Bush's attorney said his client is gratified that Miller declined to pursue charges against him.

"Midshipman Bush is a young man who has committed his life to the protection of our country and, with these criminal charges now behind him, he looks forward to continuing his loyal and devoted service," attorney Andrew J. Weinstein said in a statement.

Burke, the alleged victim's attorney, said her client was pleased to hear that cases are moving forward against two of the three men.

"She's a strong young woman who is committed to doing her part to ensure public safety," the Baltimore-based attorney said. "She wants to see justice done."

The woman, now a senior, declined to be interviewed on Thursday. She told The Washington Post this week that she now suffers "complete and total isolation" on campus.

She said she is determined to finish her course work, earn her commission and serve in the Navy.

"I've heard more than once that these things follow you," she told the Post. "But I have aspirations to be the leader I came here to be."

Burke said she was pleased with Miller's decision to prosecute the two midshipmen, but remains concerned about the process. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Miller has the authority to reject the findings of a court-martial he has convened.

"We continue to be troubled that the victim will be required to undergo additional hours of grueling testimony, knowing that a single person not in the courtroom has the power to set aside the jury verdict," she said.

She said she wants Miller to pledge to uphold the results of the court-martial.

pwood@baltsun.com

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