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Defense questions accuser's credibility in Naval Academy sex assault case

Defense attorneys for three Naval Academy football players accused of sexually assaulting a female midshipman while she was passed out at an Annapolis party last year sought Thursday to raise questions about her credibility and motives.

The woman, now a senior at the academy, spent about eight hours on the witness stand Thursday. The preliminary hearing into the alleged incident opened this week at the Washington Navy Yard. She endured seven hours of testimony and cross-examination on Wednesday.

The midshipman acknowledged that she lied about her drinking habits to a counselor during a substance abuse screening and that she drank alcohol when she was restricted from doing so after a conduct violation.

The defense attorneys asked her why she did interviews about the case on national television this spring, when several months earlier she hadn't even cooperated with the investigation.

"I wanted to tell my story," the woman said.

The Baltimore Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Vice Adm. Michael Miller, the academy superintendent, ordered the Article 32 hearing to help him decide whether to refer the three football players to a court-martial, impose administrative sanctions or dismiss the charges.

Midshipmen Tra'ves Bush and Joshua Tate could face charges of aggravated sexual assault in the incident, which is alleged to have occurred at an off-campus party in Annapolis in April 2012. Midshipman Eric Graham is facing a charge of abusive sexual contact. All three could be charged with making false official statements.

Bush, Tate and Graham have not testified during the hearing or commented publicly on the allegations.

Their accuser testified this week that she blacked out at the "football house" after a night of heavy drinking.

With only spotty memories of the night, she said, she learned later through social media and rumors that she might have had sex with multiple partners. She said she didn't recall having sex or agreeing to have sex.

"I didn't have any memories of sexual activity," she said.

Andrew Weinsten, a civilian attorney representing Bush, asked whether she thought Bush, with whom she acknowledged having had a consensual relationship before the alleged incident, is a rapist.

"I can't say that I do know, because I don't have firsthand knowledge of what happened," she responded.

The party had a "yogas and togas" theme, with women wearing yoga pants and men in togas.

The midshipman said she had heard that Bush posted on Facebook that "he banged me out in a Pharaoh hat while I was drunk."

The accusations come at a time of rising concern over sexual assaults in the military.

The Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 the year before.

During cross-examination, the midshipman appeared to struggle at times, and she replied to many questions by saying she didn't know or couldn't remember.

Navy Cmdr. Robert P. Monahan Jr., the officer presiding over the hearing, ended Thursday's session about two hours earlier than those of the first two days after the woman said she was exhausted and was having a difficult time understanding and answering questions.

At times, Monahan and attorneys needed help understanding slang used by midshipmen, such as "grinding" — sexually suggestive dancing — and "turnt up" — intoxicated.

Tate and Graham are enrolled at the academy. Bush has completed his academic requirements but has not been commissioned as an officer pending the outcome of the investigation. None is listed on the current football team roster.

The hearing is expected to continue through the holiday weekend. After weighing testimony and other evidence, Monahan will make a recommendation to Miller, who will decide on any further action.

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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