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U.S. Naval Academy says trial decision on rape case to take weeks

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A decision on whether to court-martial three former U.S. Naval Academy football players charged with sexually assaulting a female midshipman is expected to take several weeks because of the volume of evidence, the school said.

The preliminary hearing in the case concluded late on Tuesday after eight days of often-conflicting testimony.

The men - Tra'ves Bush, 22; Eric Graham, 21; and Joshua Tate, 21 - are charged with sexually assaulting the woman in April 2012 at an off-campus party in Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the elite academy. The woman has said she had blacked out from drinking when the alleged assault took place.

The allegations are the latest in a spate of high-profile U.S. military sexual assault cases, some involving personnel whose job it was to prevent sexual abuse.

Commander Robert Monahan, the presiding officer in the so-called Article 32 hearing, will prepare a report for academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller recommending whether the case should go to a court-martial.

"The preparation of the report, considering the volume of testimony and other evidence presented at the Article 32, may take a number of weeks to complete," the academy said in a statement released late on Tuesday after the hearings ended.

The three may face a summary or general court-martial, administrative procedures or have the charges dropped, the academy statement said.

The proceeding was unusually long because of the number of defendants, and there are more than 1,500 pages of documents.

The defendants are charged with sexual assault and making false statements. Reuters generally does not report the names of sexual assault victims.

Disclosure of the alleged incident came a week after President Barack Obama, in a May 24 speech at the Naval Academy, urged graduates to stamp out sexual assault from their ranks.

Bush's May graduation was put on hold pending the outcome of the case. Graham is a senior, and Tate is a junior. The woman is a senior.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Lisa Von Ahn)

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