The sexual-assault trial of a former Navy football player began at the Washington Navy Yard on Tuesday, with prosecutors and defense attorneys clashing over how intoxicated the accuser was at an off-campus party in 2012.
Jason Ehrenberg, a defense attorney for Midshipman Joshua Tate of Nashville, confronted the alleged victim, a female midshipman, with statements she gave to investigators, classmates and journalists about that night. The accuser testified that she was reluctant to report what happened and that she initially refused to cooperate with investigators.
During that time, she also asked Tate to lie to investigators about what happened. She remained calm for most of the cross-examination but broke down when Ehrenberg questioned her motives for asking Tate to lie.
“I wanted to protect him,” she said.
“You wanted to protect yourself,” Ehrenberg said.
“No, I didn’t care about myself,” she said. “I was just trying to stay afloat.”
Tate had been one of three former Navy football players accused of sexually assaulting their classmate, but charges were dropped against the other two. At least one of the men is expected to testify this week. The case centers on what happened in a car parked outside a “toga and yoga” party and whether the woman was too drunk to consent to sexual activity.
In the prosecutor’s opening statement, Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Stormer argued that the testimony would show that the accuser was intoxicated enough to have been considered “substantially incapacitated,” and prosecutors later called several witnesses at the party who described the alleged victim as drunk.
The accuser, who took the stand in the afternoon, described being invited to the party by Tate. Before heading out, she and a friend drank shot after shot of rum at Bancroft Hall, she said, adding that she continued to drink and that the last thing she remembers clearly from the night was dancing to the song “Cashin’ Out.” After that, she said, her memories of the night consist of snippets.
Tate’s attorneys contended that any sexual activity was consensual and that despite not being able to remember much of what happened, the accuser was able to move freely and make decisions that night.
The prosecution called a forensic psychiatrist to bolster their argument that the woman would have had to consume large quantities of alcohol to experience a blackout. But Tate’s attorneys proceeded to pick apart the expert witness’s studies by drawing attention to the same papers’ conclusions that someone could still be in control of his or her actions while experiencing a blackout.
Several midshipmen who attended the party also testified Tuesday about how the accuser appeared to them that night. Midshipman Candice Tisdale, a friend of the accuser’s, said that the woman had clearly been drinking but that she didn’t consider her “dangerously drunk” because she was not going to be driving. Another friend of the accused, Midshipman Christa Kamon, testified that she saw the alleged victim fall on the dance floor and that her eyes appeared glassy. But both women, under cross-examination, said that the accuser had no trouble getting up or understanding what was going on around her.
The other major leg of the prosecution’s case rests on several statements Tate allegedly made on Twitter and to the accuser in the days after the party. He allegedly told her that they had sex and that she had been “too turnt up,” which prosecutors have translated as overly intoxicated. Tate’s attorneys pointed out that the accuser had said previously that she didn’t know what Tate meant when he said that.
The court-martial is the latest in a series of closely watched cases that have cast a harsh light on sexual assault in the military.
At the end of the trial, it will be up to the judge, Col. Daniel Daugherty, to determine Tate’s guilt or innocence. Tate chose to waive his right to a jury trial Friday over concerns that a jury would have a hard time distinguishing between having an alcohol-induced blackout and being substantially incapacitated.
The cross-examination of the alleged victim is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.