President Barack Obama has vowed to curb sexual misconduct in the
military, and defense attorneys for midshipman Joshua Tate argue
that Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller decided to go
forward because of political and media pressure.
Tate, a junior from Nashville, Tennessee, was among three Academy
football players charged in the sexual assault of a female
midshipman at a party in April 2012.
Facing charges of aggravated sexual assault and making false
statements, Tate is slated for trial in March. Friday's hearing
addressed various legal motions, including whether to admit or
Tate's defense attorney, Jason Ehrenberg, questioned Miller at the
hearing on whether bad press about sexual assault in the military
and public statements made by his superiors, including Obama, had
influenced his decision.
Miller testified that he did not take any public remarks by Obama
"as direct orders" and received no pressure from Capitol Hill or
from Navy colleagues or superiors.
In a speech at the Naval Academy's graduation ceremony in May, Obama
urged the new officers to stamp out sexual assault in their ranks.
He approved reforms last month aiming to stem the military's sexual
Miller testified that he understood Obama was "very concerned with
sexual assault in the military" and "was certainly aware" that the
Naval Academy was under scrutiny for the way it handles such cases.
The woman at the center of this case testified at an Article 32
hearing, held to determine if a trial was warranted, saying that she
drank heavily at the party and remembered little of what happened.
Reuters does not generally report the names of sexual assault
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Charges against one of the men were dropped in October, following
the Article 32 hearing.
Miller went ahead with courts-martial against Tate and the third
player, Eric Graham, 23, of Eight Mile, Alabama, despite advice from
his legal counsel and a military judge to drop the cases.
At Friday's hearing, the superintendent acknowledged "credibility
issues" in the woman's Article 32 report and that he had made his
decision to proceed against the advice of his top legal adviser.
He said his advising officers had agreed that "reasonable grounds
existed" to believe a crime took place, but that insufficient
evidence and other issues would make a conviction unlikely.
Charges against Graham, the third player accused, were dropped this
month, largely because Navy investigators had failed to read him his
The U.S. Defense Department said last month that there were slightly
more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults across the U.S. military
in the 2013 fiscal year, up about 50 percent from the year before.
The fiscal year starts in October.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Cynthia
Johnston, Cynthia Osterman and Gunna Dickson)
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