WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Not guilty. A Naval Academy midshipman is acquitted in the alleged rape of a fellow student at an off-campus party.
The case has drawn national attention, as calls for reform in the military justice system grow louder.
Meghan McCorkell has more on the verdict.
Midshipman Joshua Tate faced 30 years behind bars, but a Marine Corps colonel decided there wasn’t enough evidence against him.
Tate, a former Navy football player, will walk free. He’s acquitted of charges he sexually assaulted a fellow midshipman at a drunken party.
The midshipman declared his innocence at the beginning of the trial, saying the sexual encounter was consensual.
“I had drank a lot, and then, from that point on I really don’t remember what happened,” the alleged victim said.
The unidentified woman says she doesn’t remember much from that night, only waking up and realizing something was wrong.
“I woke up the next morning with bruises and I knew something wasn’t right,” the alleged victim said.
The woman testified in court she doesn’t actually remember being sexually assaulted. Instead, she told the court she learned about the alleged assault through friends and social media.
The military judge overseeing the case says he couldn’t determine if the accuser was too intoxicated to consent, so he acquitted Tate.
Susan Burke represents the accuser.
“It was not properly investigated, it was not properly prosecuted, so what do you expect? Not a surprising outcome,” she said.
Along with Tate, two other midshipmen were originally part of the case. But charges were dropped against one of the men and the other had his case thrown out.
The acquittal comes as several other high profile military sex assault cases make headlines.
Sexual assault charges were dropped against a Fort Bragg brigadier general. He pleaded guilty Thursday to lesser charges, admitting he had inappropriate relationships with two subordinates.
And the Army’s top prosecutor for sexual assault cases is now under investigation himself. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morse is accused of groping a female lawyer who was working for him.
“As a nation, I think the message it sends is that we are collectively failing the troops,” Burke said.
An anonymous survey by the Pentagon found 26,000 service members across the military experienced unwanted sexual contact, but only a tenth reported it.
Those that did tell WJZ the backlash for doing so was unbearable.
“They laugh about it. It’s horrible,” one alleged victim said.
Despite the skepticism, the Naval Academy said it was dedicated to finding the truth in the case against Tate, saying: “We are committed to a thorough, effective and fair conduct system and investigative process.”
According to WJZ’s news partner, The Baltimore Sun, two other female midshipmen testified on the night of the party the alleged victim had glassy eyes and at one point fell while dancing, but they found no reason to be concerned for her safety.
During the trial, the victim testified that she heard rumors she had sex with multiple partners that night.
Tate was charged with one count of aggravated sexual assault.
Last year, more than 5,000 cases of sexual assault were reported in the military–a 60 percent increase from 2012.
Lawmakers have pushed to strip commanders from prosecuting cases to encourage more victims to come forward. Opponents say that would undermine commanders’ authority.
According to the Pentagon, there were 70 reports of sexual assaults at military academies in 2013.
Meanwhile, Midshipman Tate is in the process of being dis-enrolled from the Naval Academy.
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