NEW LONDON, Conn. – A hearing to determine whether a U.S. Coast Guard Academy football player should be court-martialed on sexual assault charges ended Tuesday with the defense declining to call any witnesses.
Coast Guard Cadet Webster M. Smith, 22, has been accused by seven female cadets of misconduct ranging from improper touching to rape between May and November 2005. Five of those cadets testified in secret at the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury.
Smith's attorney, Lt. Stuart Kirkby, said his client is innocent and suggested that the sex was consensual.
The defense declined to call any witnesses Tuesday, leaving the case in the hands of Cmdr. Steven Anderson, who will report to the superintendent of the academy, Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice. Van Sice must decide within a week whether to court-martial Smith.
Five witnesses testified Tuesday, including two female cadets who said Smith entered their rooms late at night.
One said Smith tried to pull her out of bed. Another, the alleged rape victim's roommate, said Smith came into their room before dawn, stood above her roommate, then left. Both women acknowledged under cross examination that they didn't fear for their safety.
A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman also testified Tuesday about a night of heavy drinking at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., involving Smith and the cadet who accused him of rape.
Midshipman Kristin Strizki said that Smith and the woman were visiting her, and that the alleged victim passed out after consuming more than 2 liters of wine and two beers.
The next morning, Smith suggested Strizki take her friend to get the morning-after pill, she said. Strizki said her friend had no recollection of having sex with Smith and confronted him.
"He said, 'Oh please, you wanted it,"' she testified. "That's when she said, 'There is no way in hell I would have wanted to have sex with you last night, even if I was sober."'
Another witness, Coast Guard cadet Jere Cherni, testified that the alleged victim became pregnant and underwent an operation that she felt was immoral. After objections from Smith's attorneys, Cherni was not permitted to specify the operation.
Under cross-examination, Strizki acknowledged that she did not know what happened while Smith and her friend were alone, or the details of their sexual history. Friends said the two had had an on-again, off-again sexual relationship.
Smith is working at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and has been barred from contact with other cadets.
Sexual assault allegations at the military academies drew national attention in 2004, when nearly 150 women at the Air Force Academy in Colorado came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were ignored or ostracized for speaking out.
A Pentagon task force found that hostile attitudes and inappropriate treatment of women also persisted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and at the Naval Academy.