West Point cadet returns after judges overturn conviction for raping classmate in sleeping bag

Ryan W. Miller
Cadet Jacob Whisenhunt was sentenced to 21 years in prison after being found guilty of raping another cadet. A panel overturned his conviction Monday.

A cadet returned to West Point after military judges overturned his conviction of raping a classmate.

Cadet JacobWhisenhunt was sentenced in 2017 to 21 years in prison after being found guilty of raping another cadet in her sleeping bag during a 2016 field training.

But on Monday, three military judges overturned the conviction, saying there wasn't enough evidence to prove the sex wasn't consensual.

According to the Associated Press, a U.S. Military Academy spokesman said Whisenhunt returned to West Point and was in processing Wednesday.

In its ruling, the panel of appellate judges said the evidence didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Whisenhunt raped the female cadet, who was not identified beyond initials LM but testified during the initial trial.

The female cadet told the court that she woke up to Whisenhunt raping her and that she "remained frozen in the fetal position during the entire assault." Whisenhunt said the sex was consensual and "precipitated by a series of escalating and consensual touchings."

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Cadets weren't allowed to have sex during the field training, and many others were nearby where Whisenhunt and the female cadet were. Additionally, the female cadet had a "crackly" space blanket nearby.

Given the proximity of fellow cadets and the sound that the blanket would make, the judges said that it was "hard to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt" that the sexual acts occurred "without cooperation or detection."

The panel also argued that it was "even harder to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt" that Whisenhunt would have anticipated that the female cadet "would not make any reflexive noise or movements upon being awakened, which would have alerted multiple others to his criminal activity."

The judges further said that because Whisenhunt didn't try to hide his identity or remove his semen from the sleeping bag, they could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was not consensual.

"The scenario outlined by the defense and the record leaves us with a fair and rational hypothesis other than guilt," the judges wrote.

The decision comes after a recent survey found a 38% spike in sexual assaults within the military from 2016 to 2018.

Enlisted female troops ages 17 to 24 were at the highest risk of being assaulted, Nathan Galbreath, deputy director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told USA TODAY last month.

More than 85% of victims knew their assailant, according to the survey of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel in 2018.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: West Point cadet returns after judges overturn conviction for raping classmate in sleeping bag