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Similarities emerge as third victim testifies in Naval Academy midshipman's trial

By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: July 17, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — The midshipmen woke up after a night of drinking to a body pressed against hers.

Her shorts were pulled down, and the person in her bed was kissing her neck, she testified. Midshipman 3rd Class Nixon Keago.

The midshipman told him to leave, she said. He did not belong in her bed, in the sleeping area, on the boat.

She had already told him to leave once, she said. That night he would come back twice more.

The midshipman testified Thursday in Keago’s court-martial at the Washington Navy Yard. Keago is charged with sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, obstruction of justice and burglary.

The midshipman was the third woman to testify how Keago allegedly sexually assaulted her or attempted to do so.

Three women. Three days of testimony. Three similar stories.

As each woman testified, they told the courtroom how they spent the night drinking before going back to their rooms and getting ready for bed.

Then they each shared how they woke up to find Keago in their beds, pressed against their bodies.

Unwanted. Unwelcome. Unforgettable. That was how Lt. Cmdr. Chris Cox described their testimonies in his opening remarks.

And with the final midshipman, Cox aimed to make clear that the mids did not want Keago to come to her bed, any of the four times.

“Do you want him to do that?” he asked the midshipman multiple times.

No.

With each question, Cox elicited more information from the midshipmen about her night. It was the same strategy Cox and Lt. Cmdr. Paul LaPlante used with the other women.

And with her questions, defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. Adrea Kissner worked to highlight the holes in the testimony, the answers that changed, pieces of information that did not align with other facts.

The courtroom could almost be described as a chess game between the defense and the government attorneys. But on Thursday, due to the limited time on the record, it was mostly the prosecution’s turn.

The midshipman told Cox that she explored New York City with her friend after arriving in the city on a yard patrol boat for fleet week. They went out, where she had some mixed drinks, before eventually ending at the Mean Fiddler, a bar.

By the end of her night, she started talking with Keago. It started as a tactic to get a sailor to leave her alone, she said. The two agreed to do shots, she said. As she testified, Cox played a video of the midshipman at the bar.

At one point, she started to take shots with Keago. First, they take a shot together. Then she or Keago ask the bartender for another round. Only she partakes. Most of the defense’s cross-examination Thursday focused on her drinking.

Keago had told her that he would walk her back to the boat. As he does, he tries to put his arm around her, she said. She did not want him to and tried to send him non-verbal cues by walking faster.

At her yard patrol boat, the midshipman went to the female sleeping area, telling the person who signed her in to make sure Keago got back to his ship.

She got ready for bed and fell asleep.

She woke up to see Keago pop his head over her bed and ask if she’s “good,” she said.

“And I told him to leave, that he doesn’t belong here,” she said.

She was annoyed, the midshipman said. She had already told him to leave when they got back to the boat.

She woke up again, shortly after. This time, she said, Keago was in her bed, kissing her neck. Her shorts were pulled down. She was angry. She did not give him consent, she testified.

She told him to leave. Again. This time, she watched to make sure he left.

“I felt violated in that moment and scared because it could have potentially led to more if I hadn’t stopped [him],” she said.

She tried to wake up two other midshipmen, but when she told them what happened, they said she had a nightmare.

Keago comes back a third time, she said. And a fourth. Each time, she tells him to leave. She texts yard patrol’s group chat to tell whoever is on watch duty to get Keago out of the female sleeping area.

By the last time, when she again wakes up to Keago pressed against her, she is angry. She tells him to she is going to report him.

“I did not tell him to come into my rack,” she said. “I did not tell him to take my clothes off.”

She gets the midshipman on watch to remove Keago. He initially says he cannot find anyone, but the midshipman grabs his hand and points to where Keago is curled in a ball hiding.

The next day, Keago messages her on Instagram telling her not to tell anyone because he’ll get in trouble for being on the boat and they’ll both be in trouble for underage drinking.

She never responded.

She did report Keago, which led to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, the midshipman said.

At that time, she had already heard about the alleged sexual assault of the other woman. The midshipman said she made the report so no one else would have to go through what she did.

Kissner began her cross-examination, focusing on earlier Instagram messages between the midshipman and Keago. Then on the midshipman’s alcohol consumption as well as inconsistencies in her statements to NCIS officers.

Kissner asked about the walk home. Did the two flirt?

The midshipman testified that they had a friendly conversation.

“That’s not flirting, ma’am,” she said.

Kissner intended to show a video of the midshipman, while the midshipman was on the stand. Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh said he would instead dismiss her so that she would not have to be on the stand while the member panel watched the video. It would border on degrading to do that.

But Kissner’s questions focused on the video, and it was unclear if the midshipman had reviewed the video, leading Rugh to recess for the day. During the recess, the midshipman would need to watch the video, he said.

To say Rugh was fed up with the attorneys on the government and defense as he called the court to recess for the day would be to put it lightly.

“If it appears that I’m frustrated, it’s because I’m frustrated,” Rugh said. “The amount of time that we’ve been able to be on the record is lousy.”

The court-martial of Midshipman 3rd Class Nixon Keago typically starts at 9 a.m. each morning and continues until 4 p.m. with a lunch recess that has been typically lasting an hour.

Thursday started with a two-hour delay followed by another hour delay. The causes of the delay were not clear or stated. The court was on the record for just over two hours before an extended recess. Court returned for another hour before Rugh ordered it to recess due to the video problem.

The judge blamed the lack of on the record time, which is when the actual arguments and questions are presented, on the counsel. They were not prepared for the day, he said.

“Unacceptable, folks,” Rugh said. “Unacceptable.”

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