Three Navy football players have been charged under military law with rape, sexual assault, and lying to investigators about allegedly having sex with a female midshipman who was passed out from drinking, the Naval Academy announced Wednesday.
In a three-paragraph statement, the Academy did not identify the suspects but said they were being charged under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for rape and sexual assault, and under Article 107 for making false official statements. Convictions under Article 120 could bring jail terms of more than 20 years.
Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, the Academy’s superintendent, has referred the charges against the three suspects to an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a grand jury proceeding in civil law. No date has yet been announced for the hearing.
In a statement, Susan Burke, the lawyer for the female midshipman, said "my client and I are cautiously optimistic that justice will finally prevail in this case."
The female midshipman told agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that she was sexually assaulted by the three men in April 2012 at an off-campus location widely known in Annapolis as the "football house,’ where players went to party.
The midshipman, who drank heavily at the party, said she woke up with bruises on her arms and legs, and learned later from friends and from Facebook and other social media postings that the three players were claiming to have had sex with her while she was blacked out.
With her face hidden to protect her anonymity, the midshipman went on CBS "This Morning" earlier this month and said, "The attackers had bragged about it. They had told me to my face -- what they did."
Two of the football players are juniors and the third was a senior who was held back from graduating earlier this month because of the pending charges.
The case was the latest in a series of incidents at the Naval Academy -- and at West Point, the Air Force Academy and throughout the military -- involving excessive drinking and what Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has described as the "crisis" of sexual assaults in the ranks.
Earlier this month, Marine Maj. Mark A. Thompson, a former instructor at the Academy, was convicted at a general court martial of charges stemming from allegations that he had sex with two female midshipmen following binge drinking at a strip poker party. Thompson was sentenced to 60 days in jail and the loss of $60,000 in pay.
The charges against the football players were not the first involving the team. In 2006, Lamar Owens Jr., the team's starting quarterback, was acquitted of rape but found guilty of lesser charges. He was expelled.
Another member of the team, Kenny Ray Morrison, was convicted in 2007 of sexually assaulting a female classmate at a Washington hotel. He was sentenced to two years in jail.
The latest charges came as Congress has been debating reforms to the UCMJ to deal with the reported spike in sexual assaults in the military.
In a letter Wednesday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., urged him to increase oversight of military service academy superintendents in response to the increasing rates of sexual assault.
"We graduate thousands of cadets and midshipmen each year," Mikulski said. "The education of the midshipmen will shape the culture of the military for years to come. That is why I am concerned about the leadership that trains the leadership and am deeply troubled by the lackluster response from the Superintendents to increasing rates of sexual assault within their Academies."