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Two versions of events emerge in court-martial at sub base

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published August 28. 2013 4:00AM

Groton - On the first day of a general court-martial at the Naval Submarine Base, the government argued that a sailor raped another sailor at his home near the base in March while the defense countered that she lied about being assaulted so she could be transferred.

Both sides said Jeramie Martin Hutchinson, 26, an information systems technician second class assigned to the base, and the 22-year-old alleged victim initially met on an online dating site about two years ago. 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.

During the opening statements, Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Robertson, the trial counsel, and Lt. j.g. James Cole, for the defense, presented different versions of what happened next.

Hutchinson and the woman kissed in the park, Robertson said, but then Hutchinson groped her and once they returned to his house, choked and sexually assaulted her. Robertson told the jury of seven officers and enlisted members that once they see the evidence and hear the testimony, "You'll know what happened, and I ask you to find the accused guilty of rape."

Hutchinson is 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. The commander of the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic convened the court-martial.

Cole said the two sailors flirted, held hands and kissed. Everything "looks like a first date," Cole said, and the alleged assault is the "link in the story that doesn't fit with the rest." He asked the members of the jury to think about how they would expect a victim of sexual assault to act when they listened to the testimony.

The government called its first witness, a co-worker of the alleged victim who said he saw her crying at work March 11. He was briefly questioned before the sailor gave her testimony.

The alleged victim said on the stand she was fine with kissing Hutchinson but protested when he went further. After she said no in the house, she said, he choked her and forced her to have sex.

Lt. James Belforti, for the defense, asked why she went inside the house if Hutchinson had behaved inappropriately in the park and why she did not leave immediately after the alleged assault took place.

She said she returned to his house because she wanted to "give him the benefit of the doubt" that he would act appropriately, and she did not leave right away because she did not how he would react if she made a scene.

She was emotional during the testimony and the military judge presiding over the trial, Marine Col. Daniel J. Daugherty, asked her on more than one occasion to speak up.

Each side called an expert witness to talk about research involving sexual assault victims. The witness for the government said there was no one way victims act, while the witness for the defense discussed the limitations of the studies.

A Groton Town Police investigator discussed her investigation and said Hutchinson was vulgar when she questioned him and seemed more concerned with whether he could still get a gun permit than the potential charges. Groton Town Police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated before NCIS took the lead in April.

The government rested its case after a nurse and doctor from Newport Hospital testified about performing a sexual assault examination on the alleged victim.

The defense called two people who have supervised Hutchinson to talk about his character, which they described as "squared away." Robertson, during cross-examination, pointed out that one of the supervisors met Hutchinson in late March and the other has not interacted with him much in three years.

At the end of the day, the defense called a chief who supervised the alleged victim in Newport. Chief James Aarnio said she was sent to Newport for 10 months and she had told him she was frustrated with the medical system there.

She had testified she was transferred to Newport from overseas for medical care and she did not like Newport at first. She said she requested to transfer to Norfolk after a sexual assault response coordinator told her in April that she could do so, to be close to the main legal office there and be further away from Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was a member of a performance monitoring team at the Regional Support Group in Groton.

If convicted, Hutchinson faces up to life in prison, forfeiture of pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. Or, under military law, he could receive no punishment other than the conviction.

Hutchinson, of Sebastopol, Calif., enlisted in the Navy in August 2006. He spoke briefly on Tuesday to answer questions from the judge. The defense plans to call additional witnesses this morning.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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