Sailor's court-martial on sexual assault charges begins

Groton - The general court-martial starts today at the Naval Submarine Base for a sailor accused of sexually assaulting another sailor.

The commander of the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic convened the court-martial against Jeramie Martin Hutchinson, 26, an information systems technician second class assigned to the base. He 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 military has been criticized for failing to stem the growing number of sexual assaults in the ranks. 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, which involves two Navy sailors, Groton Town Police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated before NCIS took the lead in April.

According to the charge sheets, a female sailor accused Hutchinson of sexually assaulting her in March at his residence near the base. Hutchinson was a member of a performance monitoring team at the Regional Support Group.

A military judge, Marine Col. Daniel J. Daugherty, is presiding over the trial. It is expected to last until Thursday.

During the voir dire to select the jury on Monday, Daugherty asked the nine officers and sailors from various commands on the base who were assigned to serve as members of the jury to read a memo Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote on Aug. 6 to tell the military that there are no expected or required dispositions in any military justice case.

Lawyers have argued that recent trials were tainted because of the president's remarks about how sexual offenders in the military should be prosecuted and fired.

Daugherty stressed that the jurors have to be fair, impartial and independent.

Attorneys for the government and the defense questioned the potential jurors on sexual assault training they've had through the Navy and whether they could form opinions based solely on the evidence in the case.

They were asked about any previous interactions they or their family members have had with law enforcement officials and the civilian and military legal systems, traumatic events in their lives, and whether they feel a victim of sexual assault should react in a certain way.

One lieutenant was excused after he said he knew several people who had been sexually assaulted. The defense team used a peremptory challenge to reject a chief it said would not be able to fairly consider awarding no punishment to someone who was convicted of sexual assault.

Another lieutenant from the same command as a more senior officer on the jury said he felt he could stand up for his opinion if they reached different conclusions and both remained on the jury.

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.

He chose to have a jury of at least five members, including enlisted sailors, rather than a trial by a military judge or a jury of officers. The seven-member jury comprises six men and one woman. Four are officers, the most senior being a commander, and three are enlisted members.

Hutchinson, of Sebastopol, Calif., enlisted in the Navy in August 2006. He did not speak during Monday afternoon's proceedings and it was unclear whether he would testify. The alleged victim is expected to testify.

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