Prosecution Begins Arguments in Coast Guard Rape Case

A Coast Guard cadet accused of rape and other sex offenses was a manipulative senior who preyed on lonely women, a prosecutor said Tuesday in opening arguments at the defendant's court-martial.

Webster Smith, 22, of Houston pleaded not guilty Monday in the first student court-martial in Coast Guard Academy history to charges including rape, sodomy, extortion and assault that stem from allegations by three female cadets.

His military attorney compared the case to the Salem witch trials, in which people were put to death based on concocted stories that weren't backed up by evidence.

The case centers on a night of heavy drinking last summer at Annapolis, Md. Friends testified during pretrial hearings that one of the women — Smith's on-again, off-again girlfriend — drank until she passed out and was enraged the next morning when she learned that she and Smith had had sex.

The former girlfriend took the stand Tuesday as the first witness following opening statements.

In his opening statement, Cmdr. Ronald Bald, the military prosecutor, described Smith as a manipulative person who preyed on women when they were weak.

"When they were drunk and alone he moved in. When they were helpless, he moved in. When they had nowhere left to turn, he moved in," Bald said.

Smith's military defense lawyer, Lt. Stuart Kirkby, stressed there is no DNA, no forensic evidence, no rape kit and no crime scene photos. He said the former girlfriend "doesn't recall anything from the moment she left the house, conveniently, until the very next morning."

Defense attorneys maintain the young woman was not as drunk as she says and suggested Monday that she may have concocted the rape accusation to cover up her embarrassment at having sex with an on-again, off-again boyfriend.

On Monday, the court chose a nine-member jury of Coast Guard officers that includes four white men, one white woman, three black men and a man of Asian descent.

Smith's attorneys, who raised the possibility that the charges could be racially motivated, said they were pleased by the jury's diversity. Smith is black and the accusers are white.

Smith also faces charges of disobeying an order, unlawful entry and being absent without leave.

The court-martial is expected to take a week.