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Two ex-Naval Academy football players face trial in sex assault

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two former U.S. Naval Academy football players accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated female midshipman will face general courts-martial, the school said on Thursday, in the latest of a spate of sexual misconduct allegations roiling the world's most powerful military.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Mike Miller has made the decision to charge Eric Graham, 22, with abusive sexual contact and to charge Joshua Tate, 21, with aggravated sexual assault, the school said in a statement.

Graham, a senior, and Tate, a junior, are both also charged with making false official statements.

A third football player in the case, Tra'ves Bush, 22, will not face court-martial charges, the academy said.

The three had been charged with sexually assaulting the midshipman in April 2012 at an alcohol-fueled off-campus party in Annapolis, Maryland, site of the elite school.

The woman, now a senior, faced dozens of hours of questioning and answered many graphic questions during an eight-day Article 32 hearing, held to determine whether a court-martial was warranted.

The woman testified that she had blacked out from drinking when the alleged assault took place.

The allegations were among the latest in a spate of high-profile military sexual assault cases, some involving personnel whose job it was to prevent sexual abuse.

A study released in May by the Defense Department estimated that reports of unwanted sexual contact in the military, from groping to rape, rose to about 26,000 cases last year from 19,000 in 2011.

Graham's lawyer, Chip Herrington, said Miller had given in to public pressure and rejected recommendations from the Article 32 hearing, which concluded last month after often-conflicting testimony.

"The bottom line is Eric Graham is not guilty, and the allegations of sex abuse against him are completely false," Herrington said.

The female midshipman's attorney, Susan Burke, declined to comment. Reuters does not generally report the names of sexual assault victims.

Commander Robert Monahan, who presided over the Article 32 hearing, recommended in a 174-page report that all three cases be dismissed due to a lack of credible evidence, according to sources close to the case who requested anonymity.

Herrington said defense lawyers had not learned when and where the trials will take place.

Disclosure of the alleged incident came a week after President Barack Obama, in a May 24 speech at the Naval Academy, urged graduates to stamp out sexual assault from their ranks.

Bush's May graduation was put on hold pending the outcome of the case.

(Editing by Ian Simpson, Andrew Hay and Gunna Dickson)

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