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Navy commander’s trial on attempted rape opens with video

A cellphone aimed at a set of French kitchen doors picks up the sounds on video.

A woman inside is heard screaming — repeatedly — “No! Stop! Spike, stop! Is this what you want, a girl who doesn’t want you?”

Many minutes later, a man steps into camera range on the deck outside the kitchen. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this,” he says, before putting the still-recording device into his pocket and leaving.

The video was shown to San Diego Superior Court jurors Wednesday as a trial got underway for Navy Cmdr. John Michael Neuhart II, whose “call sign” with his former helicopter squadron in Guam was “Spike.”

Prosecutors say Neuhart assaulted the woman, a Navy helicopter pilot instructor, with intent to commit rape at her home in the Valencia Park neighborhood of San Diego last year. Neuhart faces three charges involving attempted rape plus burglary and resisting arrest.

He faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

Neuhart’s defense attorneys say the video depicts a matter of consensual sex, with aggressive foreplay between two highly intoxicated people.

The case is being tried in state court rather than military court because San Diego police brought the case to the District Attorney’s Office, an office spokeswoman said. Neuhart has been relieved of his command and is assigned to the headquarters section of San Diego-based Navy Region Southwest while out on bail.

Attorneys on both sides gave opening statements to a jury of 10 men and two women. The trial is expected to last through next week.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Tag said the victim, identified in court only as Kristen B., had served on a helicopter squadron in Guam under Neuhart’s command in 2016. In September last year, she transferred to Coronado as a helicopter squadron flight instructor.

On Sept. 11, she and a friend went to a concert, where they drank beer. She left early to meet with members of her former squadron from Guam who were in San Diego for training. They had more drinks at the Manchester Grand Hyatt downtown, Tag said.

Neuhart, in town for a separate conference, met with Kristen and the group. By midnight, the others were gone, leaving Neuhart and Kristen in the bar. Hotel security videos played by defense attorney Brian White showed the two hugging and kissing, Kristen walking unsteadily and Neuhart’s arm around her.

Eventually they took a ride-share to her house. Kristen testified at Neuhart’s preliminary hearing that he pulled off her jeans and tried to rape her, bruising her arms and legs in a struggle. His cellphone video showed him knocking insistently and rattling her kitchen door handles after she’d ordered him out of the house through the front door.

White told jurors Kristen took off her own pants and let Neuhart into her house for nearly three hours, sometimes crying and yelling at him to stop and leave, but also lying on the couch with him.

“We’re going to see a whole lot of irrational behavior in this trial,” White said.

Her shouts drew the attention of a neighbor, who called San Diego police. Neuhart left the house, running into a canyon with his camera video recording the sound of his heavy breathing and footsteps. Police officers can be heard yelling at him to stop before arresting him.

Staff writer Carl Prine contributed to this report


© 2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.