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Coast Guard Academy to court-martial cadet

A U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet will be court-martialed on sexual assault and other charges, the first such court-martial in the academy's history, the school said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet will face a court-martial on rape and other charge, the first such court-martial in the academy's history, the school said Wednesday.

Webster M. Smith, 22, will face nine charges including rape, sodomy, extortion and assault.

He had faced accusations of misconduct ranging from rape to improper touching from seven female cadets. But after considering evidence from a hearing last month, Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice, the academy superintendent, opted to dismiss five charges, including indecent assault and one sodomy charge.

"As we've said from the beginning, Webster Smith is not guilty of these charges and we will make that demonstration," said defense attorney Merle Smith, who is not related to the cadet.

Smith said his client was disheartened by the charges but understands the process and will be ready for trial.

A court-martial is the military equivalent of a trial. Van Sice's decision to bring the case to a court-martial is comparable to a civilian judge ruling that there's probable cause for a case to trial.

A trial date has not been set, but the officer presiding over last month's evidentiary hearing suggested that time was an issue because many witnesses will graduate this spring and report for assignments around the country.

Officials have said a trial likely will be held at the academy in New London.

Van Sice would have no comment, the school said Wednesday.

The most serious charge against Smith, rape, involves a woman whom friends described as his on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Testimony at last month's hearing centered on a night of drinking in Annapolis, Md. One friend testified that the alleged victim passed out and was shocked to learn the next morning that she and Smith had had sex.

Smith, a senior, remains enrolled at the school and is working on campus and has been barred from contact with other cadets. Academy spokesman David French said that won't change until the trial is complete. Smith won't be eligible to graduate this spring because he would need to make up classes, he said.

The academy, founded in 1876, is the smallest U.S. federal service academy with an enrollment of about 980 cadets. Women represent about 30 percent of Coast Guard Academy cadets, compared to less than 20 percent at the Air Force and Naval Academies and about 15 percent at West Point.