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1 charge could be dropped in Naval Academy case

Jan. 9, 2014 - 07:02PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — A lawyer for a woman at the center of a sexual assault case involving two U.S Naval Academy midshipmen says military prosecutors plan to recommend dropping a charge against one of the men.

Ryan Guilds, a lawyer for the woman, also a midshipman, said prosecutors told her and her lawyers Thursday they intend to recommend dropping a charge of abusive sexual contact against Midshipman Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala. Guilds called the news “extremely disappointing.”

He said the prosecutors’ reason for wanting the charge dropped has to do with the fact that a judge recently decided to exclude from a military trial a statement Graham made to investigators that he had sexual contact with the woman. The statement was excluded because investigators didn’t read Graham his rights, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Navy prosecutors’ office, Jennifer Zeldis, said Thursday she could not confirm whether prosecutors would recommend that U.S. Naval Academy superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller drop the charge. She said prosecutors continue to assess the case and will “make recommendations as appropriate.”

Graham also faces a charge of making a false statement during the investigation of the case, though that charge is the lesser of the two offenses. A spokesman for the U.S. Naval Academy, Cmdr. John Schofield, said in a statement late Thursday that Miller has not received a recommendation from prosecutors.

If Miller agrees to drop the charge, that would be the latest blow to a case that has already seen one defendant dismissed. A judge who oversaw a pretrial hearing also had complained of sloppy work by investigators.

Guilds said that even without Graham’s statement there is “sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial.” He said lawyers for the woman will request a meeting with Miller before he makes a decision about what to do. The Associated Press generally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Prosecutors initially accused the three men of sexually assaulting the woman in 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md. The woman said she didn’t remember being sexually assaulted by the men after a night of heavy drinking, but that she was later told what happened. The men were all football players at the academy at the time of the alleged assault.

Last year the military held an eight-day preliminary hearing in the case, called an Article 32 hearing. Miller, the superintendent, decided in October following the hearing that two of the men would face courts-martial, the military’s equivalent of a trial. He chose to send the men to courts-martial despite the fact that the judge overseeing the hearing told Miller in a report that none of the cases should move forward.

Chip Herrington, a lawyer for Graham, said in a telephone interview Thursday that prosecutors told him “no comment” when he asked Wednesday whether they intended to recommend dropping charges against his client. He said he hopes that if a recommendation is made that the superintendent will “make his decision based on the facts and in the interest of justice rather than public relations concerns about the Naval Academy and himself personally.”

Graham’s court-martial is currently scheduled to begin Jan. 27 at the Navy Yard in Washington. A court-martial for the other midshipman charged in the case, Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn., is set to start Feb. 10. Tate faces an aggravated sexual assault charge.

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