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Judge orders media to turn over interviews in Naval Academy sex assault case

Jan. 22, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A military judge has ordered the release of un-aired portions of interviews two news organizations conducted with a woman at the center of a sexual assault case at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
A military judge has ordered the release of un-aired portions of interviews two news organizations conducted with a woman at the center of a sexual assault case at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
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WASHINGTON — A military judge has ordered the release of un-aired portions of interviews that CBS and CNN conducted with a woman at the center of a sexual assault case that involved three U.S. Naval Academy football players.

Attorneys for the one former player currently facing charges in the case sought the footage, arguing it is relevant to preparation for his trial set for March. Lawyers for the two networks argued in court last week, however, that the footage is irrelevant and duplicates already available material. They also argued that the journalists shouldn’t have to turn over material gathered in the course of reporting.

The military judge overseeing the case, Col. Daniel Daugherty, ruled Wednesday that “the vast majority” of the unaired footage duplicates already available material and testimony by the woman. In a 7-page ruling he found both networks aired “the most news worthy segments,” but un-aired portions include “specific, material information and a level of detail not present” in the woman’s other statements.

“The Court has extensively reviewed the alternative sources and finds these limited excerpts unique in content,” he wrote in saying those segments should be provided to defense lawyers. He later wrote “the press and public interests are best served by disclosing this limited but highly relevant information.”

Prosecutors initially accused three Naval Academy students of sexually assaulting a female student in 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., where the school is located. The woman said she didn’t remember being sexually assaulted after a night of heavy drinking but heard from others she had had sex with multiple partners at a party. The three men were all football players at the academy at the time.

Last June, the woman gave interviews to CBS and CNN. At her request, neither network showed the woman’s face or used her name. The Associated Press is also not identifying her and generally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual assault.

At last week’s hearing, the judge discussed providing 5 segments of material from CBS and 12 from CNN. The judge did not say how long those segments lasted. CBS aired about 5 minutes of a 45-minute interview, and CNN aired about 11 minutes of 55 minutes of interviews.

The judge gave lawyers for the two networks 72 hours to appeal his ruling before releasing the segments he determined were unique. A CBS News spokeswoman, Sonya McNair, said they’re considering an appeal. A lawyer for CNN did not immediately return telephone messages Wednesday asking whether they would appeal.

The CBS and CNN interviews all aired around the same time that the U.S. Naval Academy’s superintendent decided to move ahead with the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury investigation in the case. Following those proceedings, the superintendent decided not to go forward with charges against one man, Tra’ves Bush of Johnston, S.C. He did proceed with charges against two others, Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala., and Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn.

The charges against Graham have since been dropped, leaving Tate as the only remaining defendant. He is set to face a court-martial, the military’s equivalent of a trial, in mid-March. He is charged with aggravated sexual assault and making false statements.

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