WASHINGTON (AP) — A woman who accused a former Naval Academy football player of sexual assault was so drunk at a party that she blacked out, walking and talking but not remembering what was going on, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
The court-martial of Joshua Tate, of Nashville, Tenn., centers on whether the alleged victim was too drunk to consent to sex. Tate's closely watched trial comes as the military is under increasing scrutiny to curb sexual assaults within its ranks.
During opening statements, prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Stormer said the woman was drinking "shot after shot after shot" and taking "swig and swig and swig" from a bottle of liquor at an off-campus house party where the alleged assault occurred in 2012. The woman, who has already testified during a preliminary hearing last fall, has said she doesn't remember being sexually assaulted after a night of heavy drinking but heard from others she had sex with multiple people at the party.
Stormer said when the woman asked Tate whether they had had sex, he said yes and offered to "refresh" her memory.
"Everything to him was a big, laughing matter," Stormer said.
Tate's attorneys, meanwhile, argued the woman was able to make her own decisions, including those about sex. Cmdr. Art Record described her as "upright, walking around," having significant conversations, and even rebuffing the advances of one man.
"She was processing information. She was physically in control of her body," Record said.
Record said the woman later told a friend that the party was "crazy" and "what I did last night, I did it, and I wanted to do it."
Tate's trial is expected to last several days. He faces one count of aggravated sexual assault and charges of lying to investigators. The alleged victim is expected to testify in the trial, perhaps as early as Tuesday afternoon.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service began investigating within days of the April 2012 "Toga and Yoga" party — during which men wore togas and women wore yoga pants — at an off-campus party house used by football players. But the alleged victim initially did not want to pursue charges.
In the midst of the investigation, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of stamping out sexual assault during his speech to the academy's graduating class of 2013.
The case was closed without any charges, but reopened when the alleged victim began cooperating with Navy investigators. The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault.
Prosecutors initially accused Tate and two other former football players of sexually assaulting the woman during the party in Annapolis, Md., where the Naval Academy is located. Charges against Eric Graham, of Eight Mile, Ala., were dropped after a military judge said statements Graham made during an investigation would not be admissible during a trial. Charges against Tra'ves Bush, of Johnston, S.C., were dropped when the head of the academy, Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, found that there were not "reasonable grounds" that a crime had been committed.
The Senate defeated a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would have stripped commanders of their authority to prosecute sexual assault cases, placing that power with military lawyers instead. But the Senate recently approved legislation to better protect victims within the ranks and ban the "good soldier defense" to make sure a defendant's fate is determined solely by evidence.
Tate, now a senior at the academy, has chosen to have a judge decide his guilt or innocence.
The judge also heard testimony Tuesday from a military expert on blackouts as well as two female Naval Academy students who attended the party. Both women identified themselves as friends of the alleged victim and said she was drunk.
Christa Kamon testified that she helped her friend up after she fell dancing and remembered her slurring her words. The other woman, Candice Tisdale, said her friend had glassy eyes and needed to hold on to a railing when walking down steps.
Tisdale said her friend was "not herself" and that she wouldn't have allowed her to drive. But asked by the judge, Col. Daniel Daugherty, if she was concerned for her friend's safety, Tisdale said no.
As Tate's trial unfolded, a military general faced sentencing in North Carolina in another high-profile sexual assault case. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to having improper relationships with three subordinates, but charges of sexual assault were dropped.
Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko