One of the three men originally charged in a high-profile sexual assault case at the U.S. Naval Academy is expected to speak publicly for the first time Tuesday about what happened between him and his accuser inside a parked car outside an off-campus party.
Eric Graham, a midshipman from Eight Mile, Ala., is scheduled to appear in a courtroom at the Washington Navy Yard to give a deposition before a military judge. Graham will face questions from both prosecutors and attorneys for the remaining defendant, Midshipman Joshua Tate of Nashville.
Graham was initially charged last spring with Tate and former midshipman Tra’ves Bush of Johnston, S.C., in the alleged sexual assault against a female midshipman. Charges against Bush and Graham were later dropped.
Attorneys for Tate had asked to depose Graham, who agreed to talk under a grant of immunity. His testimony will likely prove key to defense arguments that any sexual contact was consensual.
The case, which has come to symbolize, for some, the military’s shortcomings in handling sexual assault claims, hinges on whether the accuser was too drunk to consent. She has testified that she drank heavily that night in April 2012 and remembers few details. She said that she learned the next morning from friends and social media posts that she allegedly had sex with multiple men at the party. (The Washington Post does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault.)
She was reluctant to report anything to authorities, but the allegations reached investigators, who launched a probe. The alleged victim refused to cooperate for months. The case was closed, then reopened after she began to cooperate in January 2013.
In the spring, she publicly criticized Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller, who under military law wields broad authority over disciplinary and criminal matters involving midshipmen, over his handling of the case. She accused him of trying to bury the alleged incident just as debate over the role of military commanders in sexual assault cases was heating up in Congress. Miller’s subsequent decisions — to charge the three midshipmen, and later to drop charges against two of them — became the subject of intense public criticism and a federal lawsuit.
Public pressure was so overwhelming, Tate’s attorneys argued Monday, that Miller had “no choice” but to send Tate’s case to trial, against the recommendations of in-house legal counsel and a military judge. As evidence, they cited critical comments made by President Obama, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the secretary of the Navy and other top Navy officials about the military and the service academies’ handling of sexual assault claims at about the time Miller made key decisions.
Miller testified last month that his commanders did not pressure him and that his decision was based on the judge's findings that, while the case was weak, there were reasonable grounds to believe a crime had occurred.
Unlawful command influence was just one of several arguments Tate’s attorneys presented Monday in their attempts to get the case dismissed. They also argued that Tate was unfairly singled out for prosecution and that the case was sent to trial improperly.
They said that there was insufficient evidence to try Tate — a claim for which Graham’s testimony may prove critical. They also said that prosecutors have not shown that the alleged victim was too drunk to move or talk or that she otherwise met the definition of “substantially incapacitated.”
Part of that argument cropped up Monday in a dispute over the definition of the phrase “turnt up” and the credibility of the Urban Dictionary, a popular online dictionary of slang.
Tate allegedly told the accuser that on the night of the party she was “too turnt up,” suggesting he was aware that she was extremely intoxicated. The accuser testified last year that she took that to mean drunk, which, prosecutors noted, jibed with the Urban Dictionary definition.
Tate’s attorneys asked that the accuser’s definition of the term be suppressed. The judge, Col. Daniel Daugherty, met them half way, ruling that she would not be allowed to define it and that he would leave it up to jurors to “draw their own conclusions” about its meaning.