Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 10:51 a.m.
WASHINGTON — A military judge found a former U.S. Naval Academy football player not guilty of a sexual assault charge Thursday at the conclusion of a three-day trial.
Col. Daniel Daugherty acquitted Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn., of one count of aggravated sexual assault. During the trial, prosecutors argued that the woman Tate was accused of assaulting, a Naval Academy classmate, was too drunk to consent to sexual activity. Tate's attorneys disagreed.
The judge said Thursday that the facts of the case "present difficult and complex questions," but he concluded prosecutors had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard required for convicting Tate.
Just hours before the verdict, a separate court-martial unfolding in Fort Bragg, N.C. also ended in favor of the defense.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was reprimanded and docked four months' pay but avoided prison time for carrying on a three-year affair with a captain who later claimed she had been sexually assaulted.
The two cases underscore the military's attempts to grapple with sexual misconduct within its ranks. A Pentagon report released last year estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted in the prior year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward out of fear their careers might be derailed.
One of Tate's attorneys, Jason Ehrenberg, said after the ruling that "the system worked." But he criticized what he said was a clearly political environment that had pushed his client's case along. He said it never should have reached trial.
Ehrenberg said his client's reaction to the decision was "one of great relief." And he called him a "good young man."
An attorney for the woman at the center of the case, meanwhile, said in a telephone interview after the judge's verdict that "deeply disappointed doesn't adequately describe" his client's reaction to the case's outcome.
Ryan Guilds said his client was "appalled by the lack of accountability" and said the case's outcome was a result of a "flawed military system" and a failed investigation. The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault.
More than a dozen witnesses testified at Tate's trial. That included the alleged victim, who testified for more than five hours and said she didn't remember being sexually assaulted after a night of heavy drinking but heard from others she had had sex with multiple partners at the party. She said she confronted Tate, who confirmed they'd had sex.
Prosecutors initially accused not only Tate but also two other students, both of them former football players, of sexually assaulting the woman during a 2012 party at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., where the school is located. Tate was the only student ultimately brought to court-martial, the military's equivalent of a trial.
The head of the Naval Academy decided not to go forward with courts martial for the other two students, Tra'ves Bush of Johnston, S.C., and Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala. The military held an Article 32 hearing, which resembles a preliminary hearing in civilian court, in August and September of 2013. Following that hearing, the academy's head, Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, decided in October not to pursue charges against Bush.
Charges against Graham were dropped in January. Prosecutors had recommended that move after a military judge said statements Graham made during an investigation would not be admissible during a military trial.