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Trial begins in USNA sex assault case

Mar. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Midshipman 1st Class Joshua Tate, 21, is charged with sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman at the April 2012 'Togas and Yogas' party thrown at an Annapolis, Md., house rented for the football team.
Midshipman 1st Class Joshua Tate, 21, is charged with sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman at the April 2012 'Togas and Yogas' party thrown at an Annapolis, Md., house rented for the football team. (U.S. Naval Academy via AP)
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Attorneys for the prosecution and defense gave opening arguments and called their first witnesses Tuesday morning in a sexual assault case against a former Naval Academy football player stemming from an off-campus party two years ago.

Midshipman 2nd Class Joshua Tate is charged with sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman at the April 2012 “Togas and Yogas” party thrown at an Annapolis, Md., house rented for the football team.

The case will be decided by a military judge at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., after Tate elected to forgo a jury at a hearing last week.

At the center of the trial is whether, after a night of heavy drinking, the female midshipman was too intoxicated to consent to sex with Tate.

“All the accused had to do that night was wait, hang around, and when [the midshipman] became substantially incapacitated, [Tate] made the decision to do exactly what he wanted to do with her,” a prosecutor said in his opening statement Tuesday.

According to Tate’s NCIS statement, the accuser initiated their encounter, verbally affirming that she wanted to have sex with him.

She has since testified that she did not remember having sex with anyone at the party. Originally, three former football players were charged with assaulting her throughout the night.

An attorney for the defense, in his opening statement, argued that the female midshipman was not too intoxicated to consent, citing a statement made by a friend and fellow midshipman she spoke with the morning after the party.

“ ‘Last night was crazy,’ ” the defense attorney said, quoting comments the accuser alleged made to the friend. “ ‘What I did last night, I did it, and I wanted to do it.’ ”

Midshipman 1st Class Candice Tisdale, a key witness for the prosecution, testified that the alleged victim appeared drunk throughout the night, but that she was not concerned for her safety at the time.

Tisdale added that the alleged victim wasn’t aware of what she had done until rumors surfaced the following day. As a policy, Navy Times does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

The prosecution called an expert witness to discuss the effects of alcohol consumption on decision-making and memory retention.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Daniel Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist based at Walter Reed Military Medical Center, testified that research has found that acute alcohol intoxication can affect a person’s ability to make decisions.

However, during questioning by the defense attorney, Johnson explained that alcohol doesn’t necessarily make someone unaware of what they’re doing, but it can affect their ability to make memories of the event.

Johnson answered affirmatively when the judge asked whether a person can make informed decisions while drunk, even if they later have no memory of their actions.

Following a September Article 32 hearing, Naval Academy superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller decided not to pursue a trial against now-Ensign Tra’ves Bush.

The alleged victim has acknowledged a prior sexual relationship with Bush. Tisdale testified in the Article 32 hearing that the alleged victim told her she might have had consensual sex with Bush earlier in the night before becoming more intoxicated.

A military judge threw out a statement made to NCIS by the third accused, former-Midshipman 1st Class Eric Graham, after it came to light that the investigators had not read him his rights.

That statement, in which he admitted to having sex with his accuser, was the only piece of evidence linking him to an assault.

The trial is set to continue Tuesday afternoon and is expected to last throughout the week.

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