Grand jury may hear charges in rape case

2 Mids are accused in June incident

July 21, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel and Laura Sullivan | Andrea F. Siegel and Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County grand jury is likely to hear allegations today that two Naval Academy students raped a fellow midshipman and could hand up felony indictments as early as this afternoon against the two football players.

Police charged Cordrea Brittingham of Berlin and Arion Keith Williams of Detroit, both 21, with second-degree rape and sexual offenses. Police say the two athletes assaulted an intoxicated 20-year-old midshipman at an off-campus party in Arnold three weeks ago.

The home was being rented by the parents of another midshipman.

Brittingham and Williams were released on $50,000 bail and returned to the Naval Academy, where they are taking summer classes and attending football practice.

Academy spokeswoman Lt. Karen Armstrong said yesterday that the school has been able to comply with court orders that the two athletes not come into contact with the woman.

Even if Brittingham and Williams are found not guilty, the two will face an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the school, which could expel them.

Police said the athletes confessed when questioned, a statement that defense attorneys for both men dispute.

While investigators said the woman was "unconscious" and did not consent to the sexual activity, the men's attorneys have countered that she was not fully intoxicated and that she was a willing participant.

Warren A. Brown, Brittingham's lawyer, was hoping to ward off an indictment by having Brittingham testify before the grand jury, but by yesterday that prospect seemed remote.

Brown said he had not received an invitation from the prosecutor's office to bring his client forward.

Defense views

"I was hoping we would be allowed to give our version of what happened," Brown said. "This thing is not supposed to be an us-against-them, it is supposed to be the pursuit of justice and all that. We were willing to come in and share information."

He said he expects police and prosecutors will "filter the information that goes to the grand jury, and they will get an indictment."

Assistant State's Attorney Laura S. Kiessling, who is handling the case, said she could not comment.

Besides jeopardizing their naval and academic careers, the two athletes about to begin their junior years could receive lengthy prison terms. If convicted, Brittingham faces a maximum of 30 years, while Williams could get 50 years.

`Fraught with pitfalls'

Williams' lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey, said he would not try to place his client before the grand jury.

"It is fraught with pitfalls," he said.

The biggest pitfall is that anything a potential criminal defendant might say to a grand jury could be used against him in a trial.

Also, a defense attorney cannot go into the grand jury room with his client, though the client can leave the room and confer with his attorney before answering each question.

Touhey said that means the client would have no lawyer in the grand jury room blocking inquiries or stopping a client from saying something incriminating or damaging to the defense's case.

The defense's strategy, Brown said, is to attack the female midshipman's character and show that she consented.

The party was attended by about a dozen people; about half were academy students, and all had been drinking, Touhey said.

According to police, the woman went into a bedroom and passed out about 10:30 p.m. Police said she awoke to find two men assaulting her. A friend took her to the hospital about 2 a.m. Her blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.11, just more than the 0.10 legal presumption of drunken driving.

It is not clear when her blood-alcohol level was tested, a significant detail that would likely re-emerge if there is a trial.

The two defense lawyers contend that 0.11 is the equivalent of drinking a few beers and is not enough to render someone unconscious.

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