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2 ex-Navy football players to face court-martial in sex assault case

The U.S. Naval Academy superintendent says two of three midshipmen should face a court-martial in a sexual assault case.

Vice Adm. Michael Miller on Thursday said he has referred the cases of Midshipmen Eric Graham and Joshua Tate to general court-martial. He decided not to refer Midshipman Tra'ves Bush.

The case of the former football players has drawn attention at a time when the White House, Congress and Pentagon are focusing on sexual assaults in the military.

The case stems from an alcohol-fueled party at an off-campus house.

The woman, through her attorney, said this summer that the assault occurred in April 2012. The woman says she 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.

Graham is charged with Abusive Sexual Contact and Tate is charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault, according to a statement from the Navy.

The decision comes after an Article 32 hearing, the civilian equivalent of a preliminary hearing, in which the alleged victim's underwent more than 30 hours of cross-examination this fall by three defense teams. She faced graphic questions about sexual acts and her attorney criticized the process.

Within days of the "Toga and Yoga" party, during which men wore togas and women wore yoga pants, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service began looking into the allegations. The alleged victim initially did not want to pursue charges. During the Article 32 hearing, defense attorneys played a recording of a phone call in which she asked one of the defendants not to cooperate with investigators.

The case was closed in November 2012, but reopened in January, when the alleged victim began cooperating.

In the midst of the investigation, President Obama emphasized the importance of stamping out sexual assault during his May speech to this year's graduating class. Susan Burke, the alleged victim's attorney, went public days later, disclosing the investigation and what her client knew.

Burke, an outspoken lawyer who has represented more than 200 sexual assault victims, has said the academy tried to sweep the case under the rug to protect its reputation. The academy and an NCIS agent have said an investigation was vigorously pursued.

"Miller's decisions were informed by the findings and recommendations made by the Article 32 Investigating Officer, as well as by independent legal advice from the Navy's Region Legal Service Office and the Naval Academy's Staff Judge Advocate," the academy said in a statement.

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 in a military court. 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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