A former Navy football player was acquitted Thursday of sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman at an alcohol-driven off-campus party.
After a three-day trial, Marine Corps Col. Daniel Daugherty found Midshipman Joshua Tate of Nashville not guilty of one count of aggravated sexual assault. Tate, who had faced up to 30 years in prison, chose to be tried by a judge rather than a military jury.
Tate had also been charged with making false statements to investigators. Daugherty sent those charges back to Naval Academy Supt. Vice Adm. Michael Miller for consideration.
The case, involving an April 2012 party, was closely watched because it was part of a national debate involving sexual assaults in the military, including charges against Army Big. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair. On Thursday, Sinclair was reprimanded, fined $20,000 in pay, but avoided a prison sentence in his case.
The Navy case also came on the heels of other civilian cases involving athletes such as the assault in Steubenville, Ohio.
"This case reflects that the military justice system remains badly broken," said Susan L. Burke, the lawyer who represented the female student who said she was assaulted. "Like so many survivors of sex crimes in the military, our client was twice victimized: first by her attacker and then by the failed investigation and prosecution of this case."
"Justice did not prevail in this case, but we are proud of our client's extraordinary strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of incredible abuse she endured before and during the trial. She is understandably disappointed today, but hopes legitimate reforms of the military justice system will occur because of her case and those of other survivors," Burke said in an email to reporters.
Tate's attorney, Jason Ehrenberg, praised the verdict but criticized the military justice system for allowing a weak case to move forward.
"It's the right decision ... It's a shame he had to go through this," Ehrenberg said outside the military court building at the Washington Navy Yard.
Tate was accused of having sex at the party with a female classmate who was so drunk she could not have given consent.
The female midshipman testified that she had been drinking rum then went to a "toga and yoga" party at an illicit off-campus house known to be used by football players at the academy in Annapolis, Md. Males wore togas and females reportedly wore yoga pants. More than 100 people attended the party at the house known as "the Black Pineapple," according to testimony.
There was heavy drinking at the party where the 20-year-old woman arrived already drunk. She testified that she may have been too drunk to stay conscious. The woman said she learned of the sex acts via social media the next day. She testified that she confronted Tate, who confirmed they'd had sex.
Initially, three midshipmen were charged in the case. The charges against the others were dropped before the court-martial began.
Daugherty said that the two other midshipmen accused of lying in connection with the case were punished administratively.