published Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Closing arguments expected in Naval Academy case

By JESSICA GRESKO

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Closing arguments were expected today in the court-martial of a former U.S. Naval Academy football player accused of sexually assaulting a classmate.

Midshipman Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn., faces charges of aggravated sexual assault and lying to investigators in a trial that turns on whether his classmate was too drunk to consent to sex during a 2012 party. The party, where men wore togas and women wore yoga pants, was held at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., where the Naval Academy is.

Tate's court-martial, the military equivalent of a trial, is being closely watched case as the military tries to improve the way it handles sexual assault cases.

Prosecutors initially accused three men — all of them then football players — of sexually assaulting the woman. Tate is the only one who remains charged in the case.

On Wednesday, one of the men initially accused in the case, Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala., testified that the alleged victim performed oral sex on him in a car at the party and asked for sex. Graham initially faced charges of abusive sexual contact and lying to investigators, but charges against him were dropped in January after a military judge said statements he made during an investigation would not be admissible during a trial.

Graham also testified Wednesday that the woman did not appear "dangerously intoxicated," that she was in control of her body and able to make her own decisions. Graham said he entered the car where the woman was after Tate told him she wanted to talk to him. Tate allegedly assaulted the woman in the vehicle before Graham got in.

The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Graham was one of more than a dozen people who testified over the course of the two-day trial, many of them midshipmen who also attended the 2012 party at the "football house." The alleged victim spent the longest time on the stand. She began testifying Tuesday and continued Wednesday, for a total of about five hours. She said she does not remember having sex with Tate, but he later told her they had.

Tate, now 22 and in his third year, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated sexual assault, the most serious charge against him, his lawyer Jason Ehrenberg said. Tate is also accused of lying to investigators. A military judge hearing the case will decide his guilt or innocence.

In addition to testimony from Graham, the judge heard Wednesday from the other man formerly accused in the case, Tra'ves Bush of Johnston, S.C. One of Tate's lawyers read a statement from Bush in which he said the alleged victim "did not seem intoxicated" when he first encountered her at the party, though she later looked like she had been drinking.

Bush, who said he had been in a casual relationship with the woman, said she was "in control of her movements and her speech." The head of the Naval Academy decided in October not to take Bush's case to court-martial, saying there were no "reasonable grounds" to believe he had committed a crime.

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