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U.S. Navy may drop charges against man accused of sex crime: lawyer

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Navy prosecutors are seeking to drop charges against a former U.S. Naval Academy football player who is accused of sexually assaulting a female midshipman, the woman's attorney said on Thursday.

Eric Graham, 23, of Eight Mile, Alabama, was among three Academy football players charged with the assault, one of a spate of sexual misconduct allegations involving the U.S. military.

Graham, a senior at the elite school, has been charged with abusive sexual contact. He is scheduled to face a court-martial this month.

"We were notified yesterday by the prosecutorial team that they wanted to be permitted to give up," said the accuser's civilian attorney, Susan Burke.

She said the decision followed a recent motion not to permit an admission from Graham to be used as evidence because Navy investigators failed to read him his rights.

Burke said Navy prosecutors would submit a request to the academy's superintendent, Vice Admiral Michael Miller, recommending that the charges against Graham be dropped.

Graham's attorney, Chip Herrington, said he had not been officially notified of the motion to dismiss the case but was hopeful that Miller would approve the request.

"We hope that this time he will make his decision based on the evidence and in the interest of justice and fairness, rather than the interest of politics and public relations," he said.

An Academy spokeswoman, Jennifer Zeldis, declined to comment.

ALCOHOL-FUELED PARTY

Graham and two other football players were charged with sexually assaulting the woman in April 2012 at an alcohol-fueled off-campus party in Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the school.

The woman testified at an Article 32 hearing, held to determine if trial was warranted, that she drank heavily at the party and remembered little of what happened. Reuters does not generally report the names of sexual assault victims.

Charges against one of the men, Tra'ves Bush, of Johnston, South Carolina, were dropped in October following the Article 32 hearing.

The third man, Joshua Tate, a junior from Nashville, Tennessee, is scheduled to appear in court in February on a charge of aggravated sexual assault.

He and Graham also face a charge of making false statements.

Lawyers for Graham and Tate plan to question Miller's decision to court-martial their clients in a judicial hearing on Monday in Washington.

Defense attorneys have argued that Miller rejected advice from his legal counsel and a military judge to drop the cases because he was facing political and media pressure.

The Defense Department said last month that there were slightly more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults across the U.S. military in the 2013 fiscal year, up about 50 percent from the year before. The fiscal year starts in October.

A study released in May by the Pentagon estimated that reports of unwanted sexual contact, a wider category, rose to about 26,000 cases in 2012 from 19,000 in 2011.

President Barack Obama signed reforms into law last month that includes stripping commanders of their power to overturn sentences that result from court-martials.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Cynthia Osterman)

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