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Footage sought in Naval Academy sexual assault case

Jan. 14, 2014 - 06:11PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for CBS and CNN told a military judge on Tuesday that they shouldn’t have to turn over un-aired portions of interviews the networks conducted with a woman at the center of a sexual assault case that involved three U.S. Naval Academy football players.

Attorneys for the one former player currently facing charges in the case want the footage, arguing it is relevant to preparation for his trial, which is scheduled for March. But lawyers for the two networks argued in court briefs and at Tuesday’s hearing at the Washington Navy Yard that the footage is irrelevant and duplicates already available material.

In addition, lawyers for both networks argued that as journalists their clients shouldn’t have to turn over material gathered in the course of reporting.

That so-called reporter’s privilege is derived from the First Amendment. But the lawyers acknowledged the judge is bound by a 2009 Navy appeals court ruling where the court refused to recognize a reporter’s privilege. That case involved un-aired portions of a “60 Minutes” interview. Lawyers for CBS and CNN said they believed that case was wrongly decided.

The military judge overseeing the case, Col. Daniel Daugherty, did not immediately rule at the conclusion of Tuesday’s arguments. But he seemed inclined to let defense attorneys have at least some of the footage, which he has reviewed. The judge said he would notify the networks’ lawyers of his decision and give them three days to appeal before any material is turned over.

The argument comes in a case in which prosecutors initially accused three Naval Academy students of sexually assaulting a female student in 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis, Md., where the school is located. The woman said she didn’t remember being sexually assaulted after a night of heavy drinking but heard from others she had had sex with multiple partners at a party. The men were all football players at the academy at the time.

Last June, the woman gave interviews to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper, and the network aired portions of both interviews. CNN lawyer Daniel Shanahan wrote in a court filing that Amanpour’s interview lasted 21 minutes, of which about 7 ˝ minutes were aired. Cooper’s interview lasted 34 minutes, and approximately four minutes were aired.

The woman also was interviewed by CBS’ Jeff Glor and portions of the interview were aired on “CBS This Morning” on June 17 and June 20 as well as in other CBS reports. A lawyer for CBS, Michael Berry, did not say how much footage the network has in addition to what it aired.

At her request, neither network showed the woman’s face or used her name. The Associated Press is also not identifying her and generally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual assault.

The CBS and CNN interviews all aired around the same time that the U.S. Naval Academy’s superintendent decided to move ahead with the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury investigation in the case, called Article 32 proceedings. Following those proceedings in late August and early September, the superintendent decided to go forward with charges against just two of the men, Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala., and Joshua Tate of Nashville, Tenn.

The superintendent dropped charges against Graham last week after the judge barred statements Graham made during an investigation from being part of a planned military trial. Tate, now the only remaining defendant, is set to face a court-martial, the military’s equivalent of a trial, in mid-March. He is charged with aggravated sexual assault and making false statements.

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