April 13, 2006

Coast Guard cadet faces court-martial

BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet accused
of raping a female classmate who had passed out after a night
of drinking will face a court-martial, the first such trial in
its history, the academy said.

Cadet 1st Class Webster Smith, a senior from Houston who
played linebacker on the academy's football team and was also
accused of sexually assaulting at least six female cadets,
faces nine charges, including rape, sodomy and extortion.

Coast Guard officials say all of the alleged incidents took
place in the cadet barracks between June and November of 2005.

In a statement on Wednesday announcing the court-martial,
Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice, the academy's superintendent, said
five other charges had been dismissed, including indecent
assault and one sodomy charge.

It was unclear how many accusers remain in the case.

Smith is the first Coast Guard cadet to be accused of
sexual assault since the New London, Connecticut-based academy
started admitting women in 1976. He denies all charges.

The accusations against Smith prompted the Coast Guard to
begin an Article 32 hearing under the military code of justice,
similar to a criminal investigation in civilian courts. Under
those rules, Smith is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

A trial date had not been set.

The Pentagon released a study last August that found
widespread sexual harassment at the U.S. military academies.
The report was ordered by Congress after a sexual-abuse scandal
at the Air Force Academy in 2003.

The quarterback of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis,
Maryland, was charged in February with raping a female student.
The academy has not announced whether it will pursue a
court-martial for accused Midshipman Lamar Owens.