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Coast Guard Rape Case Hinges on Drinking

March 21, 2006

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ A night of heavy drinking last spring resulted in a U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet becoming pregnant and accusing a classmate of rape, witnesses testified Tuesday at a hearing to determine whether the classmate should be court-martialed.

Webster M. Smith, 22, a Houston native who played football for the academy, has been accused by seven female cadets of misconduct ranging from improper touching to rape between May and November 2005.

The two-day hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury, ended Tuesday after Smith declined to speak and his attorneys decided not to call any witnesses. The investigating officer has one week to recommend whether Smith should face a court-martial.

The rape charge against Smith involves a woman who witnesses described as his on-again, off-again girlfriend. She testified in secret, but her best friend testified publicly about the night of the alleged attack in June 2005.

Naval Academy Midshipman Kristin Strizki said her friend and Smith were visiting Annapolis, Md., where they played drinking games with friends at an off-campus house. She said her friend passed out after drinking more than two liters of wine and two beers.

The next morning, Smith suggested she take her friend to get emergency contraceptives, Strizki said. The female cadet had no recollection of having sex with Smith and confronted him, Strizki said.

``He said, ’Oh please, you wanted it,‴ she testified. ``That’s when she said, ’There is no way in hell I would have wanted to have sex with you last night, even if I was sober.‴

Lt. Stuart Kirkby, Smith’s military attorney, suggested the sex might have been consensual, noting that couple had a lengthy sexual relationship. Strizki acknowledged that she did not see Smith and her friend when they were alone.

Another witness, Coast Guard Cadet Jared Cherni, testified that the alleged victim became pregnant and underwent an operation that she felt was immoral. After objections from Smith’s attorneys, Cherni was not permitted to elaborate.

Coast Guard Academy cadets are not permitted to remain at school while pregnant, and the alleged victim remains enrolled.

Smith is working at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and has been barred from contact with other cadets. He left the hearing without commenting.

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