By Lacey Johnson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A military investigator testified on Tuesday that a former U.S. Naval Academy football player said he had a sexual encounter with a female midshipman who has accused him and two other former players of raping her.
Another of the three young men had also admitted to having had sex with the accuser, according to earlier testimony in the case, while the third man accused of raping the midshipman said that an earlier admission of having had sex with the woman was "a joke," another military investigator said on Tuesday.
The men - Tra'ves Bush, 22; Eric Graham, 21; and Joshua Tate, 21 - are facing a preliminary hearing on charges of sexually assaulting the woman in April 2012 at an off-campus party in Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the elite academy. The woman has said she had passed out from drinking when the alleged assault took place.
The rape allegations are the latest in a spate of high-profile U.S. military sexual assault cases, some involving personnel whose job it was to prevent sexual abuse.
Michelle Robinson, a special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said Graham had told her he had a sexual encounter with the woman in a car parked outside the party prior to the alleged rape.
During a September 2012 interview, Graham said he knew the midshipman had been drinking because her eyes were "glossy" and she "smelled of alcohol," said Robinson, who testified via an online link from Bahrain.
In earlier interviews with investigators, Graham had denied seeing the woman at the party, Robinson said.
Also on Tuesday, another agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Lisa Werner, testified that Tate told Naval investigators that he had not had sex with the woman and that earlier comments that he had were not true.
"His admissions previously had been a joke. He was just going with the rumors that were going around," Werner said.
On Sunday, a Navy investigator testified that Bush had acknowledged having sexual contact with the woman.
"He disclosed to us that he lied to us in prior interviews about not having sex with" the woman, Special Agent Jesus Torres said.
Under questioning by Graham's attorney, Lieutenant Commander Angela Tang, Robinson said that in an interview less than a month after the party that the woman had said she knew something had happened there.
Last week, the woman testified she did not recall feeling like she had sex the night before. She denied having any memories of a sexual nature from the party.
Robinson said the woman told her in a September 2012 interview that she recalled "a 13-second window" of sexual activity that night.
The preliminary hearing, now in its second week, is expected to conclude on Tuesday at Washington's Navy Yard with final witnesses and closing statements.
During the so-called Article 32 hearing, the woman, now a senior, faced dozens of hours of sometimes graphic and repetitive questioning from defense attorneys about the party and its aftermath.
The presiding officer, Commander Robert Monahan, will make a recommendation to Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller on whether the case should go to a court martial. A decision on a court martial is expected to take one or two weeks.
The woman has testified she filed an assault report only on another student's urging, saying she had not wanted to get anybody in trouble or be forced to leave school.
The three defendants are charged with sexual assault and making false statements.
Reuters generally does not report the names of sexual assault victims.
Disclosure of the alleged incident came a week after President Barack Obama, in a speech at the Naval Academy on May 24, urged graduates to stamp out sexual assault from their ranks.
Bush's May graduation was put on hold pending the outcome of the case. Graham is a senior, and Tate is a junior.
(Editing Leslie Adler)
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