WEST POINT, N.Y. -- A West Point cadet accused of sexually assaulting a fellow cadet he was dating was described by his accuser at his court martial on Wednesday as having an explosive side to his personality.
The military trial of Cadet Lukas M. Saul at the U.S. Military Academy began days after the Department of Defense said reports of sexual assaults and complaints of sexual harassment rose sharply during the 2014-15 school year.
Saul, 23, is charged with violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice involving inappropriate contact with a cadet without her consent three times throughout 2012.
The accuser, now an Army officer, calmly but sometimes quietly described three times when she said Saul forced himself on her on and off West Point grounds. The first time, at the basement at her parents' home, she said, he would not stop having oral sex with her despite her pleas of, "Stop, Luke! Stop, stop!"
Afterward, she said, "There was such a darkness in his eyes. It's almost animalistic."
Saul, in his gray cadet uniform, sat flanked by his lawyers in a ceremonial room overlooking the Hudson River. Judge Lt. Col. S. Charles Neill, from Fort Drum, sat before a window topped with the academy motto, "Duty. Honor. Country."
Maj. Jenny Schlack, for the prosecution, described Saul as a Jekyll and Hyde type, with a darker side he showed behind closed doors.
Defense lawyer Gil Spencer said the prosecution was telling less than half the story, which involved a breakup. He said the pair had consensual sex over the 17 months they dated after meeting during their plebe year, when Saul helped tutor her for a math class. He said what happened between them was "a typical teenage thing."
Testimony began after lawyers spent Wednesday morning questioning the 12 Army officers who make up the court martial panel. The judge excused seven officers, leaving a panel of four men and one woman.
Saul, of Ithaca, didn't graduate with his class last year and has been on administrative leave since August. The charges against him carry a maximum punishment of dismissal from the Army, forfeiture of pay and confinement for life if he's found guilty.
Spencer, the defense attorney, said Saul is "on trial here for his liberty. He's on trial here for his career."
The accuser was to finish her testimony on Thursday.
According to the Department of Defense report released Jan. 8, the Army, Navy and Air Force academies received a total of 91 sexual-assault reports in 2014-15, up from 59 in the previous school year. Pentagon officials said the increase was due largely to students' growing confidence in the reporting system and expanded awareness programs.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, has been a leading critic of the military's criminal-justice system. In December, she joined fellow Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer, of California, and Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, in urging Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to lift what they called the military justice system's "cloak of secrecy" and make records from sex crimes cases readily accessible. They said the lack of transparency in military legal proceedings "calls into question the integrity of the institution."