A former Naval Academy instructor was found not guilty of raping a former Midshipman when a court martial jury panel delivered their verdict late Friday night.
Marine Maj. Mark A. Thompson was found not guilty of aggravated sexual assault, but he was convicted of five lesser charges that included committing an indecent act. He faces up to ten years in confinement with his sentencing hearing scheduled to begin on Monday morning, according to Naval Academy officials.
Thompson, who was a history instructor at the Naval Academy at the time of the alleged assaults, was charged with one count of aggravated sexual assault, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of fraternization, and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The charges stemmed from a full day of binge drinking at a croquet match between the Naval Academy and St. John's College, a liberal arts school in Annapolis, on April 30, 2011.
A female midshipman, who allegedly had been having an affair with Thompson, brought along a second female midshipman to Thompson's apartment after the match later that night. They continued drinking and played strip poker, according to the charge sheet.
The prosecution said Thompson later had sex with both midshipmen in which he forced himself onto one of them. It's this act that led to one charge of aggravated sexual assault and one charge of committing an indecent act.
The jury panel of seven Navy officers, including two women, and two Marines, decided there was not enough evidence that Thompson forced one of the midshipmen to have sex with him and did not convict him of aggravated sexual assault.
The maximum sentence for aggravated sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice is confinement for 30 years.
Thompson knew the two female midshipmen because he served as the officer representative to the rifle team. One of the midshipmen was the rifle team manager and the other was a rifle team member.
Both midshipmen graduated in 2012 and received their commissions as officers. Ensign Sarah Stadler is a gunnery officer aboard the USS Howard. The other is a Marine second lieutenant.
The case came to a verdict during a difficult week for the Naval Academy, which acknowledged that the Navy is investigating three Naval Academy football players for raping a female midshipman at an off-campus party in April 2012.
The Thompson case also came to a conclusion one week after President Obama spoke at the Naval Academy's commencement ceremony. In his address, Obama challenged the newly commissioned Navy and Marine Corps officers to end increasing problem of sexual assault in the U.S. military.
A recent Defense Department survey said that sexual assault incidents in the ranks increased in 2012 to 26,000 from 19,000 in 2010. A survey of the service academies also found an increase in sexual assault within all three academies.
Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller will serve as the convening authority and will review the record of trial after sentencing. This responsibility has come under scrutiny after two Air Force three-stars have thrown out two sexual assault convictions for two officers since 2012.
The House and Senate have both voted to remove the power of the convening authority from a commander.
The four-day court martial included a parade of witnesses who shared conflicting versions of the events after the croquet match on April 30, 2011.
The key witness in the court martial was Ensign Sarah Stadler, the female midshipman that had an affair with Thompson and one of the two the jury panel ruled had sex with him on that night.
The defense tried to prove Thompson didn't have sex with either midshipmen, and spent a good deal of the court martial calling witnesses to the stand to question Stadler's character. In their closing arguments, both the prosecution and defense acknowledged to the nine member jury the difficulty of deciding a case that depended on the credibility of witnesses giving conflicting testimony.
"This is a case about contrasts" in the veracity between witnesses for both sides, said Navy Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, the chief prosecution counselor.
Rugh repeatedly told the jury panel of seven Navy officers, including two women, and two Marines, that "there is no silver bullet" that directly pointed to Thompson's guilt.
In his summation, Marine Maj. Joseph Grimm, the chief defense counsel, told the panel that Thompson never had sex with either Stadler or the lieutenant.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that Maj. Thompson had sex with these two girls,"Grimm told the panel.
Grimm portrayed Stadler as a promiscuous "stalker" who coaxed the second lieutenant into going along with her plan to implicate Thompson. Grimm called the charges "bologna" and said Stadler "lied about lying."
In his opening remarks, Grimm said the increased scrutiny on the rising problem of sexual assault put Thompson at risk of not receiving a fair trial. He even warned that President Obama's commencement address on May 24 would influence the jury.
In his speech one week before, Obama said sexual assault threatens national security.
"Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong," Obama said in his remarks. "That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they've got no place in the greatest military on Earth."