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U.S. Naval Academy midshipman laughed off sex assault: prosecutor

By Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. Naval Academy football player laughed off his suspected sexual assault of a woman midshipman who had passed out at an alcohol-fueled party, a prosecutor said at the start of the man's trial on Tuesday.

In the case, among a spate of sexual misconduct allegations in the U.S. armed forces, Midshipman Joshua Tate from Nashville, Tennessee, is the only one to be court-martialed among three Academy football players initially accused of assaulting the woman in April 2012.

During opening arguments, Navy prosecutor Lieutenant Commander Ryan Stormer said that after the woman passed out, Tate "made the decision to do exactly what he wanted to do."

Not until the next day did the woman realize she had been sexually assaulted, he said.

When the woman confronted Tate about their alleged encounter, "everything to him was a big laughing matter," Stormer said.

"He laughingly told her yes, we did have sex."

Defense attorney Commander Art Record argued the woman, now a senior at the elite service school in Annapolis, Maryland, initiated sexual contact with Tate, also a senior.

He said that the day after the party she told a friend, "Last night was crazy. What I did last night, I did it and I wanted to do it."

DRANK HEAVILY

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 report the names of sexual assault victims.

Tate is accused of aggravated sexual assault and making false official statements. He has opted for trial by a judge rather than a jury.

The woman did not cooperate with an initial investigation into the charges and was disciplined for drinking. Charges against the other two men were dropped.

Midshipman Candice Tisdale, a friend of the accuser, testified the woman had shown obvious signs of intoxication at the off-campus party.

The next day, she testified that other midshipmen started posting discussions on social media about what the woman had done at the party. One of them described her as "gross" for her sexual behavior, Tisdale said.

When Tisdale discussed allegations with her friend that she had had sex at the party, "she was shocked," the midshipman said.

Army Lieutenant Colonel David Johnson, a forensic psychologist, testified on how alcohol can impair judgment and cause "blackouts" similar to what the alleged victim claimed happened to her.

Under questioning by Record, Johnson said he had not reviewed any evidence in the Tate trial.

The Defense Department said in December 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 Naval Academy 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.

(Corrects Tate's class to senior, not junior, in paragraph 7)

(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Grant McCool and Andrew Hay)

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