Naval Academy sexual-assault case defendant seeks dismissal

Preliminary hearings are scheduled to begin Tuesday in the case of two former Navy football players facing separate courts-martial in an alleged sexual assault of a female midshipman in April 2012.

Attorneys for Joshua Tate of Nashville are seeking to have his case dismissed. They said in court filings that there is insufficient evidence to go forward and that the U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, bowed to political pressure when he chose to put Tate and fellow midshipman Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala., on trial over the recommendation of a military judge and a separate legal adviser.

Graham is charged with abusive sexual contact. Tate is charged with sexual assault. A third defendant, Tra’ves Bush of Johnston, S.C., was also charged with sexual assault. But Miller dropped the charges against Bush after a preliminary hearing, known as an Article 32, that took place at the Washington Navy Yard this past summer. The officer in charge of that hearing, Cmdr. Robert P. Monahan Jr., concluded the evidence did not warrant a court-martial for any of the defendants, defense lawyers said. But Miller chose to put Graham and Tate on trial anyway.

The role military commanders play in sexual-assault cases has been the focus of intense scrutiny in Congress, which last month began discussing possible reforms to the military’s handling of the cases. The Defense Department reported in November that sexual-assault complaints within military ranks had surged 46 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Under military law, Miller has the authority to charge midshipmen, to determine the pool from which their jury will be chosen and to set aside their punishment.

The alleged victim, who is in her final year at the academy, has said previously that she drank heavily the night of the April 2012 “toga and yoga” party at an off-campus house, where the alleged assault occurred. She has said repeatedly that she remembered little of what happened. She said she learned of the alleged assault in the days following the party from other midshipmen and comments she saw posted on social media sites. She initially refused to cooperate with investigators for nine months because, she said, she did not want to get anyone in trouble and was afraid to tell her mother what had happened.

Col. Daniel Daugherty, the chief judge presiding over the courts-martial, is also expected to take up a request by Graham’s attorneys for access to the victim's counseling records following the alleged assault. Her attorneys and prosecutors are fighting that request, citing privacy concerns.

Separately, attorneys for the young woman have asked Daugherty to see documents produced for the trial by prosecutors and defense lawyers and to be present at the proceedings outside of the alleged victim’s testimony. Both the government and attorneys for the accused have opposed those requests, saying that the accuser does not have any legal right to such access, and that granting them could infringe on the due-process rights of the defendants.

Annys Shin has been a staff writer at the Washington Post since 2004.

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