A Navy commander accused of trying to rape a junior officer at her San Diego home last year testified that their hugs and kisses turned into a “bizzarro-world” where her screams of “no” and “stop” meant “keep going.”
On the witness stand, Cmdr. John Michael Neuhart II said, “I believed it was all consensual between us. It made sense.”
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Tag dismissed his statement, calling it “bizarre” that he and the highly intoxicated victim would agree beforehand that if she wanted him to stop their aggressive foreplay, he should ignore her words and continue.
Under questioning from his attorney, Brian White, Neuhart testified he did not “try to rape” the woman and “I had no intention of raping” the woman.
Neuhart, 40, is on trial in San Diego Superior Court on three counts involving assault with intent to commit rape, as well as burglary for allegedly forcing his way into the woman’s home, and resisting arrest by running from police afterward.
He could spend life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Neuhart’s testimony concluded Wednesday, and attorneys gave their closing arguments Thursday before San Diego Superior Court Judge Kathleen Lewis.
Prosecutors say Neuhart, who at the time commanded a helicopter squadron in Guam, came to San Diego on Sept. 11 last year for a conference. He met for drinks with members of the squadron who were in town for training, and with the woman, a Navy officer.
Neuhart has been relieved of his command while undergoing trial. He is assigned to headquarters section of San Diego-based Navy Region Southwest.
Security video from the downtown Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, where Neuhart and the others were drinking, was shown in court. The woman can be seen staggering, barely standing up at some points, with Neuhart’s arm around her as they walk down a hall and use an elevator.
The woman testified earlier that she became very drunk and ended up taking a ride-share or cab with Neuhart to her Valencia Park home. She said he pulled off her pants and nearly raped her as she repeatedly screamed at him to stop and leave.
Neuhart testified that they discussed having sex at her house before they left the hotel. He said he “waffled” about it because he is married, with five children, and because he was her superior officer — a violation of military fraternization rules.
He also said he asked the woman if she wanted a “safe word,” which he understood would mean that she was feeling safe as their flirting led to sex. Neuhart said she told him “no,” which he took as the safe word she had chosen. He said that in the context of their time together, her “no” meant “yes.”
At her house, the woman ordered Neuhart out of her home twice. The second time, he went around to the back door and set up his cellphone to record on video his repeated efforts to get inside again. Neuhart testified he did so to have proof that, if they had sex, it was consensual.
The video shows him banging on the back doors and the woman yelling at him to stop. But, she eventually let him in and could be heard crying and screaming for him to stop.
A neighbor who heard her called 911 and yelled that he had a gun. As San Diego police arrived, Neuhart ran out the back and into a canyon. He fell — fracturing his leg. Officers caught him and arrested him.