WASHINGTON, September 5, 2013 — Three former Naval Academy football players are awaiting a decision after an eight day Article 32 hearing that affects the rest of their lives.
Midshipmen Tra’ves Bush, 22 and Joshua Tate, 21, are facing charges of aggravated sexual assault, while Midshipman Eric Graham, 21, is charged with abusive sexual contact. All three men could also be charged with making false official statements.
An Article 32 hearing is the military version of a preliminary hearing in a civilian court. Military courts require an article 32 hearing to determine if there is enough evidence in a case to bring forward a trial by general court-martial. Court-martials are the military version of criminal trials.
The hearing, which started on August 27, 2013, centered on the events which occurred at an off-campus party in April 2012.
A female midshipman, who is referred to as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, told a CBS Baltimore television station WJZ in June that she had been at the same party as the three defendants. She said that she had been drinking a great deal that night, before and during the party, and had passed out from the alcohol. She told the station she did not remember very much about that night but, “I woke up the next morning with bumps and bruises … I knew something wasn’t right.”
She testified last week at the hearing that she was able to determine she was sexually assaulted through social media postings and rumors around the Academy.
Government attorneys argued in court that the victim was incapacitated by alcohol that night at the “football house,” but the three men still engaged in sexual acts with her. They say that the woman preformed oral sex on Graham in a car, Bush had sex with her possibly in the bathroom, and Tate also had sexual intercourse with her. The different alleged sexual acts account for the different charges against the men.
Prosecutors also claimed that the three male midshipmen repeatedly lied about the events of that evening to investigators.
Lawyers for defendants argued in court that there was almost no proof of any sexual activity having ever taken place and even less that any contact that was made was not consensual.
Lt. Commander Angela Tang, the attorney for Graham, spent some of her court time arguing that the accuser could not have performed oral sex on her client unwillingly. “People drink, people have sex, and it’s not a crime,” she told the court.
None of the defendants testified at the hearing.
The accuser did testify and remained on the stand for over 20 hours despite asking several times to be allowed to be dismissed due to exhaustion. Personal questions were allowed during the cross examination, including whether she had worn underwear to the party that night and how wide a woman would need to open her mouth in order to perform oral sex.
The lawsuit notes that the victim did not report the crime. Original accusations came from “some other person who attested to having personal knowledge of the crimes.”
Vice Admiral, Michael Miller, the superintendent of the NavalAcademy, ordered the Article 32 hearing and is expected to make the decision whether the case proceeds onto a court-martial, if some other administrative action is taken, or if the charges are dismissed.
However, the victim’s attorney filed suit asking Miller to recuse himself from decision making in the case. The lawsuit claims Miller, as head of the school, will be biased and that he did nothing to stop the “lengthy and abusive” questioning of the female midshipman during the hearing.
The lawsuit states, “The superintendent, acting from afar and without ever setting foot in the courtroom, intentionally subverted the judicial process in order to punish Midshipman Doe for daring to blow the whistle publicly on wrongdoing by NavalAcademy football players and the subsequent cover-up. He acted from bias because his own career interests in being perceived as a strong leader of the academy were at stake.”
As it is a federal lawsuit, the Department of Justice will work with the Navy to settle the issue of Miller’s place in the case before a decision on the sexual assault hearing will be rendered.
Midshipmen Bush and Tate could face up to a maximum of 30 years in military prison if found guilty of aggravated sexual assault in a court-martial. Under the same circumstances, Graham would face a maximum of 20 years in prison. All three men could have another five years added onto their sentences if found guilty of making false statements, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Midshipman Bush has already had his graduation put on hold. He has enough credits to graduate and had expected to participate in the ceremony with his classmates in May, but was not permitted to pending on the outcome of the article 32 hearing.
Graham is in his last year at the academy and Tate is a junior.
The case has drawn national attention due to a recent string of sexual assaults in the military. According to a Newsweek / Daily Beast report, a woman in the military has a greater chance of being sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than of being killed in action.
Obama discussed the importance of this issue during the NavalAcademy’s graduation in May 2013 saying:
“Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong,” Obama said. “That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”