Naval Academy sexual assault hearing delayed

WASHINGTON -- The days-long hearing into alleged sexual assaults involving Naval Academy football players made no progress Saturday, as the accuser again said she was too exhausted to testify.

The officer conducting the hearing ordered her to get some rest and return ready to testify on Sunday morning. Defense attorneys were unwilling to question other witnesses out of order, so Saturday's session – the fifth day of the hearing – ended with no testimony.

The Naval Academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael Miller, has ordered the Article 32 hearing to help him determine whether to charge three mishipmen who have been accused of engaging in sexual acts with a drunken classmate at an off-campus party at a house known as the "black pineapple" or the "football house" in April 2012.

Midshipman Tra'ves Bush and Midshipman Joshua Tate could face charges of aggravated sexual assault. Midshipman Eric Graham is facing a charge of abusive sexual contact. All three could be charged with making false official statements. All three are former football players. Tate and Graham are still enrolled at the academy, while Bush has finished his academic requirements, but has not been commissioned as an officer pending the outcome of this investigation.

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

The accuser has testified that she remembers very little of the night in question and has no memory of engaging in sexual acts with any of the three accused midshipmen.

The Baltimore Sun does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

The hearing, which opened Tuesday at the Washington Navy Yard, comes at a time of rising concern over sexual assaults in the ranks.

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

On Saturday morning, the midshipman said she was exhausted, which was affecting her ability to focus and give good answers to questions She said that on Friday she was conflicted between giving answers to get off the stand quickly and giving thought-out, accurate answers.

"I am quickly drifting off and thinking of other things or nothing, to be quite honest," she told the officer conducting the hearing, Navy Cmdr. Robert P. Monahan Jr.

Sessions on Thursday and Friday were ended earlier than planned due to similar comments from the accuser. The accuser spent more than 20 hours on the witness stand during public proceedings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. She also testified during a closed-door hearing on Tuesday.

After Monahan excused the accuser until Sunday, the defense attorneys said they did not want any other witnesses to take the stand, for fear that word of their testimony would get back to the accuser, who is still enrolled at the academy and remains friends with many witnesses.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Angela Tang, who represents Graham, said she had "zero confidence" that the accuser wouldn't talk about the case with other midshipmen. Tang is in the midst of cross-examining the accuser, the second of three cross examinations.

Andrew Weinstein, a civilian attorney for Bush, said he thinks the accuser's attorney – Baltimore attorney Susan Burke, who has represented hundreds of military sexual assault victims – is manipulating the accuser. Burke had to leave Saturday's session early for a social obligation.

"This situation has been manufactured," he said.

Ronald "Chip" Herrington, a civilian attorney who also represents Graham, questioned whether the accuser really was as exhausted as she claimed. He questioned whether she was making excuses of being "hazy" to get out of answering difficult questions.

"She's under no emotional or physical limitation that's been demonstrated to the court," he said.

Outside the hearing room, Burke said her client has been doing her best through successive long days.

"She needs a rest. She'll be back," Burke said.

In addition to the accuser, there's a long list of witnesses expected to testify, including midshipmen, Navy investigators and at least one medical expert.

Once the hearing is complete, Monahan will make a recommendation to Miller whether to take the case to a court-martial or not. Miller will make the final decision.

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