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Accused midshipman alleges bias in Naval Academy sex case

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A lawyer for a US Naval Academy student accused of sexual assault is asking a federal judge to remove the school’s superintendent from the case out of concern that he could be biased from political pressure because of the heightened focus on sexual assault in the military.

Jason Ehrenberg, a lawyer for Midshipman Josh Tate, wrote in a court filing submitted Tuesday night that a bias on the part of Vice Admiral Michael Miller could affect how he chooses who will serve on a court-martial panel that will decide his client’s guilt or innocence. Ehrenberg noted that the superintendent decided to refer the case to a court-martial despite recommendations from an investigating officer and Miller’s counsel not to do so after an Article 32 hearing. The hearing resembles a preliminary hearing in civilian court.

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Ehrenberg wrote that the allegations against Tate ‘‘arise within a turbulent political environment,’’ because the military has been under a spotlight concerning its treatment of sexual assault cases.

Meanwhile, Eric Graham, a second midshipman who has been referred to a court-martial by the superintendent, had an arraignment at the Washington Navy Yard on Wednesday. Graham’s lawyer, Ronald Herrington, said he will plead not guilty to all charges. Herrington also expressed concern about the superintendent’s role in the court-martial process.

The accused are former Navy football players. The case stems from an off-campus party in Annapolis in April 2012 at a house that was used by members of the football team. The woman in the case initially did not want to pursue charges. The woman, also a midshipman, had been drinking heavily on the night of the party. She testified she had no memory of being assaulted and heard secondhand that several people had sex with her at the party.

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