Mid guilty of fraternization

he was earlier accused of rape

Curcio could be expelled on administrative charge

November 27, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz and Ariel Sabar | Julie Bykowicz and Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Two months after all criminal charges against him were dismissed, a Naval Academy midshipman who had been accused of raping a younger student was found guilty of two administrative charges of fraternization, the man's family said yesterday.

Senior Robert A. Curcio, 24, could face a range of punishments. But family members say they expect him to be expelled, possibly as early as next month.

The fraternization ruling means that Curcio was found guilty of having unduly familiar relationships with two midshipmen of lesser rank. One of the midshipmen is the 19-year-old former freshman who had accused him of rape last year; the other's identity could not be determined yesterday.

The academy dropped sexual assault charges against Curcio in September after the first woman refused a military judge's order to answer questions about alleged childhood sexual abuse. Defense attorneys had argued that the abuse damaged her credibility. The woman felt the issue was irrelevant.

Bringing the lesser charge of fraternization through its internal disciplinary system allowed the academy to skirt the abuse issue while holding Curcio accountable for what officials viewed as inappropriate conduct. The ruling is subject to review by the academy's superintendent.

Curcio's mother, Lourdes Curcio, said her son was not allowed to have a lawyer present and uttered only the words, "I'm not guilty," during the hearing Tuesday, which she called a "flagrant violation of due process."

Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy spokesman, would not confirm or deny the finding of guilt, saying yesterday that "it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing process."

Tuesday's internal hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes, was the latest twist in a case that began about a year ago, when a freshman alleged that she had been raped by Curcio in his dorm room. The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Curcio has maintained he is innocent. His lawyer, Greg D. McCormack of Virginia Beach, Va., has accused the woman of inventing the allegations. Neither McCormack nor Curcio could be reached for comment yesterday.

After several months of investigation, the Naval Academy decided in July to court-martial Curcio. But in September, days before the court martial was to begin, the academy withdrew the charges, saying the woman would not cooperate with Navy prosecutors.

The school's decision drew sharp criticism from advocates for sexual-assault victims and came as an independent congressional panel and the Pentagon were examining the way the nation's military academies handle reports of sexual misconduct.

The 19-year-old woman, who had wanted to see Curcio face criminal charges, said yesterday that the finding of guilt at Tuesday's administrative hearing brings a small measure of relief.

"It's better than nothing," said the woman, who quit the academy in May and now attends a civilian college in another state. She said she has given no statements to academy officials since the criminal charges against Curcio were dropped, suggesting that one of the fraternization charges was based on evidence from the earlier case.

Anita Sanchez of the Miles Foundation, a Connecticut-based advocacy group for female victims of assault in the military, said military institutions typically favor administrative charges over criminal charges, even in cases as serious as rape.

"Victims feel that justice has eluded them when cases are disposed of in administrative manner," she said. "There needs to be a transformation of the way the military handles these cases."

Naval investigators have found that 10 reports of sexual assault at the academy since 2001 were credible, and all 13 suspected assailants were expelled. But none of those cases went to a court-martial, the military equivalent of a criminal trial.

Curcio, who is spending Thanksgiving in Antioch, Calif., with his family, will learn of his punishment in early December.

Lourdes Curcio said she and her son have resigned themselves to the fact that he will never receive his diploma or be commissioned. Curcio completed his coursework this summer, but his status with the Navy has been unclear during the pending case.

"He's a victim of the academy," she said yesterday. "They want to make Robert a poster boy for proving they have no tolerance of sexual behavior. And now the academy can't accept that they're wrong."

Curcio had originally been charged with violating orders, sodomy, conduct unbecoming an officer and indecent assault and rape.

Those charges arose from an incident last November during which Curcio allegedly lured the woman, with whom he'd had a prior consensual sexual encounter, to his dorm room and raped her.

The woman also claimed he had stalked her, making repeated unwanted visits to her room.

Then, in late March, shortly after Curcio had been charged, the woman accused him of trying to rape her in a basement bathroom in the Bancroft Hall dormitory and of threatening to kill her if she didn't drop the charges.

The academy lodged new charges against him, though those were dropped after three friends gave statements that he had been at the home of his roommate's family in Crofton.

The academy's new superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, withdrew the remaining charges Sept. 12. The next week, after Rempt's decision drew criticism, an academy official said the school would find another way to hold Curcio accountable. The official said at the time that Rempt wanted to send a message that sexual misconduct has serious consequences.

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