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The court-martial of a former Naval Academy teacher accused of sexually assaulting a female midshipman began Tuesday at the Washington Navy Yard, with the majority of time spent scrutinizing the jury pool.
Marine Maj. Mark Thompson is accused of assaulting one female midshipman and having consensual sex with a second one in April 2011 following the annual croquet match at St. John’s College. The 43-year-old faces one count of aggravated sexual assault and indecent acts; three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and other counts. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the sexual assault charge.
Thompson’s counsel, Maj. Joseph Grimm, spent hours questioning jurors, making sure they could not be compromised by the media attention the case has received. He also told jurors not to condemn his client just because the military is cracking down on sexual assaults.
Two female midshipmen say they went to the apartment of Thompson, a history teacher, after drinking. One of them reported to Navy investigators that Thompson had assaulted her.
Following the allegation, Thompson was immediately reassigned to a position where he is not working with midshipmen, an academy spokesman said.
About 30 witnesses are expected to testify during the court-martial, which should last about three days.
The first day was spent grilling 15 potential jurors. Grimm told jurors that he worried the military’s current climate about sexual assault might make some more likely to convict Thompson.
Both Grimm and the judge, Lt. Col. Charles Hale, asked potential jurors if they had listened to President Obama’s speech at the Naval Academy graduation Friday, where he condemned sexual assault.
“Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong,” Obama said in the speech. “That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”
Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, the lead prosecutor for the government, was quiet for the majority of the day.
Grimm also asked if potential jurors understood what was meant by burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“If you had to vote right now before the government presented any evidence, do you agree with me that you’d have to vote not guilty?” Grimm asked each of the 15 potential jurors.
At the end of the day, a jury was selected. It includes seven sailors, two of them women, and two male Marines.
The court-martial is set to reconvene at 8 a.m. Wednesday.