WASHINGTON -- A former U.S. Naval Academy football player was acquitted Thursday of sexually assaulting a classmate at a party, bringing to a close a case that drew wide attention at a time when the military is under scrutiny for how it deals with sexual assault.
The judge overseeing the case, Col. Daniel Daugherty, acquitted Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn., of one count of aggravated sexual assault. During a three-day trial, prosecutors argued that the woman whom Mr. Tate was accused of having sex with was too drunk to consent. But Mr. Tate's attorneys disagreed, arguing that the woman was in control of her body and making decisions for herself at the party in 2012 where the alleged assault occurred.
The judge, in announcing his decision, said the case's facts "present difficult and complex questions." And he said the vast majority of trial testimony, by midshipmen who attended the party, was shaded by alcohol consumption and the passage of time. But the judge concluded that prosecutors had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard required for conviction.
One of Mr. Tate's attorneys, Jason Ehrenberg, said the 22-year-old's reaction to the decision was "one of great relief," and he called his client a "good young man." An attorney for the woman at the center of the case, meanwhile, said in a phone interview that "deeply disappointed doesn't adequately describe" her reaction to the outcome.
The case was being closely watched as the military tries to improve the way it handles sexual assault cases. A Pentagon report released last year estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted in the prior year, and that thousands are unwilling to come forward out of fear that their careers might be derailed.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault.
More than a dozen witnesses testified at Mr. Tate's trial, including the woman, who answered questions for more than five hours over two days. She said she drank heavily on the night of the party at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., where the Naval Academy is located, and didn't remember being sexually assaulted.
But the woman said she soon saw rumors on social media that a woman had had sex with multiple partners at the party, and she believed that the rumors were about her. She said she confronted Mr. Tate, who confirmed that they'd had sex.
Prosecutors initially accused not only Mr. Tate but also two other students, all of them football players at the time, of sexually assaulting the woman during the party. Mr. Tate was the only student ultimately brought to court-martial.
In addition to the sexual assault charge, Mr. Tate also faced charges of lying to investigators. But the judge did not decide those Thursday, returning the decision on what to do to the Naval Academy head. The school said in a statement late Thursday that Mr. Tate, who was a third-year student, will resign in exchange for withdrawal of the remaining charges.