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Naval academy chief discusses sexual assault case

Updated at: 12/09/2013 5:35 PM
By BRIAN WITTE

(AP) ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The U.S. Naval Academy superintendent said Monday that he decided to court-martial two midshipmen in a sexual assault case against a military judge’s recommendation because it is his duty to make sure the charges are fully examined.

Vice Adm. Michael Miller decided in October to court-martial Midshipman Eric Graham on a charge of abusive sexual contact and Midshipman Joshua Tate on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a female midshipman during an off-campus party last year. He spoke of his decision for the first time publicly on Monday during a break at a meeting of the academy’s Board of Visitors.

"I wanted to ensure that after all of the investment of the time here that we were able to say, yes, we looked at this in great detail and that either there was an offense or there was not, and the only way I could get to that was through a court-martial," Miller said when asked about his decision by The Associated Press.

A military judge had recommended in a 171-page report that the cases not move forward. While the investigating officer found reasonable grounds to believe offenses may have been committed, he said heavy damage done to the alleged victim’s testimony made it difficult "if not impossible" to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Miller noted that the investigating officer did find reasonable grounds to believe an offense may have been committed by the two students. The superintendent said he believes it’s important for students to feel comfortable that such allegations will be fully investigated.

"One of our constituencies, obviously, is the Brigade of Midshipmen, and so the idea that, you know, just because it is difficult in a trial by court-martial, well, that’s why we have the trials," Miller said. "The trials go through and they look to see the fair illumination of those type of details."

He added the commander "in a military unit is responsible for that good order and discipline."

The case has received heightened attention at a time when Congress, the White House and the Pentagon are focusing on stamping out sexual assault in the military. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would remove commanders, including superintendents at the nation’s military academies, from the process of deciding whether serious crimes such as sexual misconduct cases go to trial.

Attorneys for the students have contended that political pressure has prompted the superintendent to court-martial the students, despite the investigating officer’s recommendation not to move forward to trial after a hearing that ended in September. Miller said Monday that the investigating officer’s report is legal advice, but that the ultimate decision rests with him as the superintendent.

The alleged victim has said she was drinking and does not remember having sex with the men at the April 2012 party but heard about it later from others.

A third student also was charged in the case, but the superintendent decided not to court-martial him. The former student, Tra’ves Bush, has since graduated.

A court-martial for Graham, from Nashville, Tenn., is scheduled to begin Jan. 27. A court-martial for Tate, from Eight Mile, Ala., is scheduled to start Feb. 10.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)