Naval Academy midshipman found guilty on all but one charge in sexual assault court-martial
By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: July 23, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Midshipman Third Class Nixon Keago was found guilty Wednesday of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, burglary and obstruction of justice. He has been found not guilty of two counts of attempted sexual assault, one of which the judge had ruled on before it reached the jury.
Keago was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault and burglary. Unlike the state, the military reports charges and additional charges, with specifications for each.
Keago was not found guilty, by the court-martial equivalent of a jury, a members panel, of the first charge, attempted sexual assault, stemming from a May 2019 incident in New York. Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh had also previously found Keago not guilty of another attempted sexual assault charge.
Keago was found guilty of sexual assault while asleep and bodily harm from a October 2018 incident involving a midshipman. He was found guilty of four counts of burglary, stemming from each incident related to the charges of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.
He was also found guilty of sexual assault while asleep and bodily harm from a February 2018 incident involving a now-ensign and attempted sexual assault, from May 2019, involving a midshipman.
The members also found him guilty of a charge of obstruction of justice. The members will now decide Keago’s sentence for his charges.
Earlier Wednesday, Lt. Cmdr. Paul LaPlante stood before the members with a request: Find Keago guilty of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, burglary and obstruction of justice. Find Keago’s actions from February, September and October 2018 and May 2019 to be unwanted.
Find them to be unwelcome. Unforgettable.
They would do so after about 4½ hours of deliberation.
“It’s about he took advantage of vulnerabilities when he took control over them while they were asleep,” LaPlante said.
Lt. Dan Phipps, one of Keago’s attorneys, had his own request.
Find his client not guilty of all charges. Find that the government investigation was fueled by rumors and incompetency.
“Midshipman Nixon Keago deserved better,” Phipps said. “He deserves better.”
While his request was not granted, the members did find Keago not guilty of one attempted sexual assault charge.
Closing arguments allowed the defense and the government to summarize their cases.
The government’s case was that Keago, a plebe at the time of the first three allegations, took advantage of the midshipmen while they were asleep, when he could control them.
When Keago lost control, because the midshipmen woke up, he would manipulate them in order to regain control, LaPlante said.
“He found midshipmen who were vulnerable,” he said.
His ideal victim, LaPlante said, was someone who was asleep and had been intoxicated.
All three of the midshipmen, including one who is now an ensign, were intoxicated the night of the sexual assaults and attempted sexual assault.
The government had the burden of proof, and as part of LaPlante’s closing, he walked the members through each of the charges and showed how he felt the government met the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Prior to closing statements, Rugh instructed the members panel, going through each of the required elements of each of the charges in relation to the case.
The government met all of the elements, LaPlante said during the closing statements. He pointed to the witnesses called by the government as corroborators to the testimony of the three victims.
“This isn’t all gossip and rumors,” the government attorney said. “That’s not why they reported. They reported because he sexually assaulted them.”
Phipps disagreed. The witnesses pointed to discrepancies, including ones in the victims’ testimonies. He also highlighted discrepancies in the victims’ statements to the court and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agents.
The agents did not question those discrepancies, Phipps said. That was one example of what he called a shoddy government investigation, he said. Another was the inability to obtain surveillance footage from the bars the victims were the night of their assaults.
The NCIS agents did not tell the victims not to talk, which allowed them to “pollute the well,” Phipps said. That led to rumors, which gave Keago a reputation.
The defense case was the rumors led the second and third victim to claim sexual assault to avoid getting in trouble. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports false allegations account for 2%-10% of sexual assault reports.
After closing statements, Rugh instructed the members on what is needed for a guilty verdict.
Before the members were dismissed to deliberate, the government alerted the court that one member, Lt. Christopher Dendor, had previously taught Keago.
Dendor told the court that he had “honestly forgotten” about teaching Keago.
Rugh elected to dismiss Dendor from the members panel after he was challenged by the defense. That left seven members on the panel. For a guilty verdict, six needed to decide that Keago was guilty.
While the members deliberated, the defense and government attorneys argued before Rugh if the government’s forensic psychology expert could be called to testify on recidivism.
The sentencing hearing is Thursday.