UPDATED: 7:18 p.m. March 18, 2014
WASHINGTON — The woman at the center of a sexual assault case against a former Naval Academy football player testified Tuesday that the midshipman “kind of laughed” when she asked him if they had sex at an alcohol-fueled party and said: “What? You don’t remember?”
On the opening day of Joshua Tate’s trial, the alleged victim said she drank heavily at the 2012 party and doesn’t remember much of what happened that night. Tate, of Nashville, Tenn., faces charges of aggravated sexual assault and lying to investigators in a trial that turns on whether the woman was too drunk to consent to sex. The closely watched court-martial comes at a time when the military is under heavy scrutiny to curb sexual assaults in the Armed Forces.
During opening statements, prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Stormer described the woman as drinking “shot after shot after shot” and taking “swig and swig and swig” from a bottle of alcohol. Stormer said the woman eventually became so drunk that she blacked out, walking and talking but not remembering what was going on.
One of Tate’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued the woman was able to make her own decisions, including those about sex. Cmdr. Art Record described the woman as “upright, walking around,” having significant conversations, and even rebuffing the advances of one man.
“She was processing information. She was physically in control of her body,” Record said.
Record said the woman later told a friend that the party was “crazy” and “what I did last night, I did it, and I wanted to do it.” The alleged victim denied during her testimony that she made that statement.
The woman testified that after the party she saw tweets suggesting someone had sex with multiple people at the party. She said she came to believe the statements were about her and asked Tate, who invited her to the party, what had happened.
“He looked at me and he kind of laughed,” the woman said during more than three hours of testimony. His reply was: “What? You don’t remember?”
He confirmed they had sex, the woman said, adding Tate told her she was “too turnt up.” She later said that meant she was drunk.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual assault. The alleged victim also testified during a preliminary hearing last fall.
Tate faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, according to his attorney.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service began investigating within days of the April 2012 “Toga and Yoga” party — during which men wore togas and women wore yoga pants — at a house in Annapolis, Md., used by football players at the academy. But the alleged victim initially did not want to pursue charges.
In the midst of the investigation, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of stamping out sexual assault during his speech to the academy’s graduating class of 2013.
The case was closed without any charges, but reopened when the alleged victim began cooperating with Navy investigators. Prosecutors then accused Tate and two other students of sexually assaulting the woman during the party. Tate, now 22 and in his third year at the academy, is the only one who remains charged.
Charges against Eric Graham, of Eight Mile, Ala., were dropped after a military judge said statements Graham made during an investigation would not be admissible during a trial. Charges against Tra’ves Bush, of Johnston, S.C., were dropped when the head of the academy, Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, found that there were not “reasonable grounds” that a crime had been committed.
Tate has chosen to have a judge decide his guilt or innocence.
The judge also heard from a military expert on blackouts as well as several Navy Academy students who attended the party.
Two of the students who identified themselves as friends of the woman described her as drunk. One student, Christa Kamon, testified about helping her friend up after she fell while dancing and remembered she was slurring her words. The other woman, Candice Tisdale, said her friend had glassy eyes and needed to hold on to a railing when walking down steps.
Tisdale said her friend was “not herself” and that she wouldn’t have allowed her to drive. But asked by the judge, Col. Daniel Daugherty, if she was concerned for her friend’s safety, Tisdale said she was not.
As Tate’s case unfolded, an Army general faced sentencing in North Carolina in another high-profile sexual assault case. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to having improper relationships with three subordinates, but charges of sexual assault were dropped.
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