By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former Naval Academy football player goes on trial on Tuesday on charges of sexually assaulting a female midshipman in a case that has focused attention on the spate of sexual misconduct in the U.S. military.
Midshipman Joshua Tate, a junior from Nashville, Tennessee, is the only one to be court-martialed among three Academy football players initially accused of assaulting the woman while she was passed out at an alcohol-fueled party in April 2012.
At a hearing on Friday at Washington’s Navy Yard, Tate opted for trial by a judge rather than a jury. He is accused of aggravated sexual assault and making false official statements.
Opening arguments were scheduled for Monday, but were delayed because of snow that shut down federal offices.
The woman testified at an Article 32 hearing, held to determine whether a trial was warranted, that she drank heavily at the party and remembered little of what took place. Reuters does not generally report the names of sexual assault victims.
The woman, now a senior at the elite service academy in Annapolis, Maryland, did not cooperate with an initial investigation into the charges and was disciplined for drinking. Charges against the other two men were dropped.
The court-martial comes three months after the Defense Department said there were slightly more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults across the armed forces in the fiscal year ending in October, up about 50 percent from the year before.
President Barack Obama in December approved reforms aimed at stemming the crisis. He urged graduating USNA officers in May to stamp out sexual assault in their ranks.
Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller denied in a January hearing that he was under pressure to go ahead with prosecution of the sexual assault cases even though his legal counsel and a military judge had advised him not to proceed.
In the most recent high-profile military sexual assault case, Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair was cleared of sexual assault charges on Monday but admitted mistreating a junior officer during their illicit relationship.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Andrew Hay)