Court dates set for Naval Academy midshipmen

Two former Naval Academy football players will stand trial early next year on charges that they sexually assaulted a classmate.

Midshipman Eric Graham's court-martial is scheduled for Jan. 27 and Midshipman Joshua Tate's court-martial is scheduled for Feb. 10, according to Naval Academy officials.

Graham, a senior at the academy from Eight Mile, Ala., is charged with abusive sexual contact, and Tate, a junior from Nashville, Tenn., is charged with aggravated sexual assault. Both are charged with making false official statements.

The charges stem from accusations made after an off-campus party in April 2012. A female midshipman testified at a preliminary hearing that she became so drunk at the event that she didn't remember most of the night and later learned she may have been assaulted by three of her classmates.

A third male midshipman, Tra'ves Bush, of Johnston, S.C., was investigated but will not be court-martialed.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller ordered the courts-martial following an eight-day preliminary hearing called an Article 32 hearing.

Attorneys for the three former football players have said the officer who conducted the hearing advised against prosecution, but under military law Miller is not bound by such a recommendation in determining if a court martial is warranted. The investigative officer's report is not public.

The case comes at a time when the military is grappling with the issue of sexual assault. The Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.

The Naval Academy case has drawn attention from advocates and lawmakers who are seeking to change the military justice system. There's a movement to remove prosecutorial authority from commanding officers and to change the Article 32 hearings, which advocates say can be difficult for victims.

pwood@baltsun.com

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