Midshipman accused of sexual assault takes the stand in his own defense
By DANIELLE OHL | The Capital | Published: April 12, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — A Naval Academy midshipman took the witness stand in his own defense Thursday, the fourth day of a court-martial where he faces charges of rape and obstruction of justice.
Navy investigators charged Midshipman First Class Michael J. Wallace, 23, with sexual assault, causing bodily harm and obstruction of justice after he allegedly sexually assaulted a female sailor enlisted in the Navy Reserve, on March 11, 2018.
He testified Thursday to a jury of military peers. As he spoke, the sailor, seated in the gallery, left the room in tears. The Capital does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Wallace allegedly raped the sailor in Pensacola while she was sleeping, causing some bodily harm. Wallace was in Pensacola, Florida during free time off-base. Prosecutors said he attempted to obstruct justice by asking a second lieutenant to lie to Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents and deleting texts from the sailor’s cell phone.
Wallace defended his actions Thursday, testifying he did not assault the sailor, whom he met in Pensacola while on spring break with friends, nor did he ask his friend to lie once NCIS began investigating.
The sailor and Wallace matched on Tinder in March 2018 and after a night of texting, met up outside Seville Quarter, a Pensacola club with several different themed bars and rooms inside.
Wallace, before meeting her, asked the sailor if she wanted to have sex. She responded, “not me.” The two texted for the duration of the night, into the early morning, and eventually found each other after Seville Quarter closed.
Wallace and the sailor took an Uber initially headed for his condo, but he ultimately joined the sailor and a friend in her hotel room.
The sailor accused Wallace of raping and deleting her texts while she was asleep.
Wallace maintains she was awake. The sex was consensual, but “weird,” he said.
The sailor told him to “stop,” according to his testimony. Afterward, wanting to leave the room and prevent her from contacting him again, Wallace unmatched the sailor on Tinder and blocked her number.
Wallace told her his phone was dead and needed to see a map so he could walk back to his condo, miles away. Instead, he used her unlocked phone to delete their text message conversation.
He admitted to lying to get access to her phone but claimed he was only trying to get out of an awkward situation, not delete evidence. The prosecution disagreed, alleging he was trying to erase any documentation of their encounter.
The sailor sent Wallace texts after he left, accusing him of forcing sex, prosecutor Cmdr. Kate Shovlin said, but Wallace testified he never received them, having blocked her number.
He also asserted his friends, who testified earlier in the trial, were mistaken when they said he erased the sailor’s phone when she was asleep.
In cross-examination, Cmdr. Kate Shovlin repeatedly asked Wallace: “Midshipman Wallace, how many lies have you told in this case?”
The defense called a forensic psychologist, Dr. Bryan J. Sweeney, to testify to the mechanics and effects of an alcohol-induced blackout, whereby a person who has been drinking heavily can no longer form memories.
Antoinette O’Neill, a defense attorney with Patriots Law Group, drew attention to blanks in the sailor’s memory and a Facebook post she later commented she did not remember posting after a night of drinking.
Sweeney said the sailor exhibited signs of a fragmented blackout because she couldn’t remember parts of the night after meeting up with Wallace.
Shovlin, in cross-examination, drew a distinction between being asleep and being blacked-out.
“Would you agree people in people in black-outs tend to fall asleep?” she asked Sweeney.
He answered, “Yes, everyone falls asleep at some point.”
Wallace said he knew the sailor was drunk, and would not have wanted her to drive a car, but he believed she was still capable of consenting to sex.
The case will proceed to closing arguments Friday and may continue without a verdict to Monday. Military Judge Cmdr. Ryan Stormer is presiding over the case.
After reviewing the case, academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter convened an Article 32 preliminary hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury investigation, on Nov. 7, Erickson said.
Following the hearing, Carter referred the charges to a general court-martial.
Wallace remains at the Naval Academy during the course of the trial. He faces discharge and confinement if found guilty.