By Lacey Johnson
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A female midshipman who has accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her asked two of them to lie to investigators to avoid being forced to leave the school, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing on Thursday.
The men - Tra'ves Bush, 22; Eric Graham, 21; and Joshua Tate, 21 - are accused of sexually assaulting the woman last year while she was passed out after drinking at an off-campus party.
The hearing follows a spate of high-profile military sexual assault cases, including some involving personnel whose job it was to prevent sexual abuse.
During cross-examination, Bush's attorney Andrew Weinstein presented a two-minute telephone recording between Tate and the woman in which she asked him to lie to Navy investigators during the early stages of the case.
"I need you to say nothing happened," the woman said during the call recorded by Tate. "I hate to ask you to lie, but I don't want this to go anywhere."
The woman, who was a 20-year-old sophomore at the time of the alleged incident, has testified that she did not want to get anyone in trouble.
She said she also told Graham to lie during the initial investigation because she did not want the case to proceed.
She has said she feared her mother would force her to leave the elite school at Annapolis, Maryland, which educates Navy and Marine officers. Students are known as midshipmen.
Weinstein challenged contradictory statements made by the woman to Navy investigators in September 2012. They included one that she had "13 seconds of memory relating to sexual activity" that night, something she denied on Wednesday.
The woman contradicted an interview she gave to CNN in which she said the three men had pressured her not to cooperate with investigators. She testified that Tate had been the only one to do so.
Weinstein grilled the woman on her sexual history with Bush, with whom she earlier had a consensual sexual relationship, and about her drinking. She testified she had started drinking at 17.
Under later questioning by Graham's attorney, Lieutenant Commander Angela Tang, the exhausted-looking midshipman burst into tears several times when she was asked if she felt in physical danger during the investigation.
She also admitted lying when she told a counselor that she had had two drinks at the party. On Wednesday she said she had drunk at least seven shots of rum.
The so-called Article 32 hearing at Washington's Navy Yard will determine if a general court-martial is warranted. Reuters generally does not report the names of sexual assault victims.
The woman says she filed an assault report on a fellow student's urging and volunteered to accept punishment for underage drinking. She sought legal help in early 2013.
Bush, Graham and Tate are also charged with making false statements. Bush's May graduation was put on hold pending the outcome of the case. Graham is a senior, and Tate is a junior.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)