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2 midshipmen accused in rape of classmates seek to resign

Two Naval Academy midshipmen accused of raping two female classmates at a Commissioning Week dorm party last year have submitted their resignations, their lawyer said yesterday.

Todd Thurston, 20, and Eric Bailey, 23, were to have entered their third year at the academy in Annapolis when classes resumed last Wednesday.

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Their attorney, William Ferris, said they submitted their resignations Friday, and he said he received word yesterday that Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt had recommended that the resignations be accepted.

In a statement issued last night, Naval Academy officials would say only that the superintendent had forwarded his recommendation on the disposition of the two midshipmen 3rd-class concerning the allegations of sexual assault, indecent acts, alcohol consumption and other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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An academy spokesman confirmed that Thurston and Bailey are no longer enrolled at the academy and had not been living on the premises since the accusations surfaced in March. But he said the school would not comment further until the secretary of the Navy acts on Rempt's recommendation.

The resignations come as the service academies are facing sharp criticism from Congress and the Pentagon about their response to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Last spring, the Pentagon replaced top officers at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., after female cadets said their complaints of sexual assault were ignored.

At the Naval Academy since 2001, a total of 14 midshipmen have been accused of sexual assault. Of those, six were expelled in 2001 and two were expelled this year, according to a report released in June. One has been court-martialed; the rest remain under investigation.

The allegations against Thurston and Bailey came to light at a hearing in June, when two women testified they were raped and sexually assaulted at a party that the men, who were roommates, held in their Ricketts Hall room last year.

Thurston is charged with raping one woman; Bailey is charged with raping two. They also were charged with several less serious offenses stemming from the party, including serving alcohol to minors and committing an "indecent act with another midshipman," according to the academy.

Though the secretary of the Navy still would have to approve the superintendent's recommendation, Ferris expects the resignations will end the cases against his clients.

"I thought that a resignation was appropriate because the minor charges against them were admitted and the most serious charges against them couldn't be proven," Ferris said.

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He said both his clients would finish their education elsewhere, but he declined to say where.

Because Thurston and Bailey are leaving before the third year, they will not have to complete five years of military service, which becomes mandatory in the junior year. It's also unlikely that the former midshipmen will have to pay restitution.

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service began looking into the allegations in March, when the women reported them. It was not known why the women, both plebes at the time of the dorm party, waited so long to report the alleged assault.

The Sun does not identify victims of sexual assault. The women are still attending the Naval Academy, school officials said.

As in other rape cases at the Naval Academy, Thurston and Bailey were charged under military law. An investigating officer was assigned their case, and he made a recommendation to the superintendent about how to proceed.

If the Navy accepts the resignations, it's unlikely the former midshipmen would face any more criminal charges, said military law expert Eugene R. Fidell.

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Civilian courts, he said, usually "let the Navy wash its own laundry," particularly when the victims are also part of the military establishment. Though a court-martial after the resignation always is possible, Fidell said, revisiting the case would only invite more scrutiny - something the school doesn't want.

"The Navy isn't particularly anxious to have its disciplinary issues on the front page," said Fidell, who practices in Washington. "It prefers that these matters be handled discreetly rather than out in the public eye."

The allegations were first reported in the Navy Times, an independent newspaper that covered the hearing, known as an Article 32 proceeding. According to the newspaper, the women testified that the sexual contact began as several midshipmen danced to music playing from Thurston's computer and drank sports drinks spiked with vodka.

The woman with Bailey said she had had consensual sex with him during a spring break trip to Mexico, but told him several times at the party she didn't want to have sex with him, according to the report. She testified she consented to kissing and fondling. After leaving to escort a friend to her dorm room, she returned to find Bailey having sex with another woman.

The second woman testified she was so intoxicated that she couldn't stand up when Thurston suggested they get into bed. She testified that she lay "frozen" as Thurston undressed her, according to the Navy Times report. When Thurston had finished, the woman said, Bailey asked his roommate: "Can I have a turn?" and also raped her.

Earlier this month, Rempt took over as the Naval Academy's new superintendent. Fidell said he hopes that, with new leadership in place, the school - and Congress - will take a serious look at sexual assault prevention.

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"They're obviously very invested in their reputation, everybody understands that. They would prefer these events never happen," he said. "The question is, how serious is Congress going to get about this, or are they simply going to put out the fire at the Air Force Academy?"


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