Published August 28. 2013 4:00PM Updated August 28. 2013 11:46PM
Groton — The jury in a general court-martial at the Naval Submarine Base found a Navy sailor guilty on Wednesday of raping another sailor in March at his home near the base.
Jeramie Martin Hutchinson, 26, an information systems technician second class assigned to the base, was charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of rape, in violation of Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's criminal code. He was found not guilty of sexual assault for two other alleged sexual acts.
The jury of seven officers and enlisted members deliberated for just over two hours Wednesday, the second day of the trial. Hutchinson will be sentenced today. He faces up to life in prison, reduction in rate, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge.
Hutchinson's voice cracked as he answered "yes, sir" to the military judge's instructions about attending the sentencing hearing.
"I know it's a shock, but I expect you to be here alive and well (Thursday) morning," Marine Col. Daniel J. Daugherty, who presided over the trial, told Hutchinson before assigning a representative from the command to stay with the sailor until the morning.
Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Robertson, the trial counsel, had asked the jury during closing arguments to convict Hutchinson on all counts because, he said, the government proved each one beyond a reasonable doubt. Robertson said the victim's emotional testimony was the most important piece of evidence, but he also discussed testimony from multiple witnesses that he said supported her account.
Robertson began and closed his argument by quoting a text message that he said Hutchinson sent to another woman and was found by investigators on his phone that said, "I may be in trouble."
Hutchinson may be a good sailor, Robertson said, but he wears a mask, and he took that mask off on March 10.
Lt. James Belforti, for the defense, said the government's case was based on one source with credibility issues, and he questioned why more evidence was not presented. At the end of the day, Belforti said, "It's about sources and corroboration."
Belforti pointed to evidence that he said was more consistent with a consensual sexual encounter than an assault, including text messages the two sailors exchanged afterward.
Hutchinson and the 22-year-old initially met on an online dating site about two years ago, according to the testimony. The two sailors made plans to meet in person for the first time after the woman was assigned to Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island earlier this year. They went hiking at Bluff Point State Park on March 10.
The government argued that once they returned to his house, Hutchinson choked and sexually assaulted her. The defense said she lied about being assaulted so she could be transferred.
Local Navy personnel have been charged in other sexual assault cases, but they are often prosecuted in the communities where the alleged incidences occurred. In this case, Groton Town Police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated before NCIS took the lead in April.
The commander of the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic convened the court-martial.
The defense rested its case Wednesday morning after calling five witnesses. Hutchinson chose not to testify.
Logistics Specialist Second Class Javier Ramirez, Hutchinson's roommate, testified that he returned home from grocery shopping on March 10 and saw the woman sitting on the couch with Hutchinson. When Belforti asked him a series of questions about her demeanor, Ramirez said they were sitting on the same cushion, talking, and she did not look disheveled.
Robertson asked Ramirez during cross-examination about the fact that he had never met her before. He testified that he spent a couple of minutes with her. Ramirez said he did not know what her normal demeanor was like to compare it to her behavior that day.
The defense also called two witnesses who supervised Hutchinson when he served on the USS Norfolk to speak to his good military character and two witnesses who worked with the woman at Naval Station Newport to raise questions about her credibility.
Hutchinson, of Sebastopol, Calif., enlisted in the Navy in August 2006 and was a member of a performance monitoring team at the Regional Support Group in Groton.