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3 Navy football players accused of sexual assault

The U.S. Naval Academy on Wednesday charged three Navy football players with sexually assaulting a female midshipman at an off-campus house more than a year ago.

The academy said in a news release that the male midshipmen are being charged with rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct, and making a false official statement.

The three students were not identified in the academy's statement. Two of the students were football players this past season, but they are not on the team anymore. Another is still on the team, but he has been suspended pending the outcome of the case. It was not immediately clear if the three have an attorney.

"The case is still in the pre-trial phase, so any further comment on this ongoing investigation would be inappropriate," Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said in a statement.

The alleged assault occurred in April 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis. The woman's attorney, Susan Burke, has said the woman woke up with bruises after a night of heavy drinking and later learned from friends and social media that three football players she considered friends were claiming to have had sex with her while she was intoxicated and blacked out.

Burke has said Vice Adm. Michael Miller, the academy's superintendent, closed an investigation into the same allegations last year without charges.

The academy announced on Monday that Miller had decided to forward the case to Article 32 proceedings, which are held to determine if there is evidence for a court-marital. Schofield said earlier this week that the initial Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation into the case had been completed and reviewed.

Burke said in a statement Wednesday, "My client and I are cautiously optimistic that justice will finally prevail in this case. Even if this case is successfully prosecuted, the larger problem remains: rape cases in the military are controlled by untrained and biased commanders whose career interests may be served by covering up incidents like this one. The Naval Academy's handling of this case raises troubling questions about how the victim and the football players were treated. This case reflects why rape victims are fearful and skeptical of the military justice system."

The case comes as a string of sexual assault cases in the military has drawn attention and criticism in Congress, the Pentagon and the White House. Many of the assault cases involve alcohol, the military has said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski recently wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that she is "deeply troubled by the lackluster response from the superintendents to increasing rates of sexual assault within their academies."

Mikulski, D-Md., is a member of the U.S. Naval Academy's Board of Visitors, which acts as a board of trustees for the Annapolis military college.

"If we are going to end sexual assault in the military, we must start by changing the culture in the service academies where future leaders are created," Mikulski wrote.

President Barack Obama talked about the sexual assault problem when he spoke at the academy's commissioning ceremony last month. The president said those who commit sexual assault threaten the trust and discipline that makes the military strong.

Other Navy football players have faced assault allegations in the past.

In 2006, Lamar Owens Jr., the team's starting quarterback, was acquitted of rape but found guilty of lesser charges. He was expelled from the school. Another one-time member of the team, Kenny Ray Morrison, was convicted in 2007 of sexually assaulting a female classmate at a Washington hotel. He was sentenced to two years in the Navy brig.

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