3 ex-Mids' rape counts set aside as part of deal

1 faces investigation in an unrelated case

March 16, 2001|By Laura Sullivan and Andrea F. Siegel | Laura Sullivan and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Flanked by family, friends and five attorneys, three former Naval Academy football players walked out of the Anne Arundel County Court House appearing relieved yesterday after the state's attorney's office stopped its prosecution on charges they raped a classmate.

The three avoided a high-profile trial in exchange for leaving the academy and having no contact with their accuser, in a deal approved by the judge.

But a second, unrelated rape accusation has been made against one of the men. Eastern Shore authorities are investigating a Baltimore college student's allegations that Cordrea "Dre" Brittingham, 21, of Berlin raped her four days before the June 29 off-campus party in Arnold that led to the Anne Arundel charges. She did not bring her complaint to police until December.

Brittingham's attorney, Warren A. Brown, said that he was aware of the investigation but that "there is nothing there."

In yesterday's four-minute hearing, the former midshipmen, dressed in business suits, stood calmly before Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. and told him that they understood the terms of the unusual agreement: The charges were placed on hold for three years, and the three men resigned last week from the military school and agreed to stay away from its Annapolis campus and their accuser.

Relatives rushed to embrace Brittingham, Arion K. "Bas" Williams, 22, of Detroit and Shaka A. Martin, 22, of Danville, Va., surrounding them as they quietly walked out of the courthouse.

In a brick courtyard after the court session, Anne Arundel prosecutors and the men's lawyers said they had agreed that avoiding a trial was in everyone's best interest, offering something for each side and a victory for no one. Nonetheless, prosecutors said they stood by their pursuit of the charges based on the female midshipman's accusation that she was assaulted after passing out at the party, while defense lawyers maintained that their clients are innocent and that the sex was consensual.

"Everyone decided to step back, and I think everyone, everyone, is happy with the result," said T. Joseph Touhey, one of five defense lawyers for the men, who hope to resume their education elsewhere.

A trial, which would have been expected to take more than two weeks, held the prospect of testimony about a party attended by midshipmen with underage drinking, allegations against the accuser and embarrassment to the academy. The defense had already asked the court for her rape counseling and school disciplinary records and wanted her to undergo a psychiatric exam, which prosecutors said was harassment.

Prosecutors said they have no plans to revive the felony charges. They said they put the case on hold, rather than drop the charges, to ensure that the woman, now a junior, could continue at the school away from the football players she said assaulted her. "One of our goals was for the victim to be comfortable in her surroundings and go on to graduate from the Naval Academy, where she has wanted to go all her life," said Assistant State's Attorney Laura S. Kiessling.

The woman was not in court yesterday. Her mother said last week that she respected the decision her daughter and prosecutors reached.

Yesterday, prosecutors reiterated their support of the midshipman, who they said agreed to the arrangement.

"She is a victim," Kiessling said.

Kiessling and Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler declined to answer questions about whether there were problems with the case, saying they would not discuss the evidence or explain why the accusations ended with the likelihood of the charges disappearing after three years.

"Resignation from the Naval Academy is a significant, life-altering event. ... They are being punished by the loss of a career opportunity," Roessler said.

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Bill Spann said the circumstances of their resignations will bar the men from military service.

According to charging documents in the Arnold case, the female midshipman "passed out" in a bedroom on June 29 and awoke to find academy juniors Brittingham and Williams assaulting her. They were charged a few days later. Martin, also a junior, was charged in October after police said results of DNA tests implicated him.

In the investigation of the new rape allegations against Brittingham, state police are awaiting a decision by the Worcester County state's attorney's office on whether and how to proceed, sources close to the investigation said. No charges have been filed.

Worcester State's Attorney Joel J. Todd declined to comment. Sources said his office would not review the police file until after the Anne Arundel County case was concluded

Of that investigation, Brittingham's attorney Brown said, "That amounted to nothing, an allegation that was stale and didn't even make any sense."

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