Jury deliberations begin in trial of Navy officer accused of sexually assaulting colleague

SAN DIEGO – Jury deliberations are set to begin Friday in the trial of John Michael Neuhart II, a former commander of a helicopter squadron accused of trying to rape a Navy colleague in her home in San Diego.

In her closing argument Thursday, the prosecutor said that Neuhart tried to rape a junior officer in her home after she told him she didn’t want to have sex with him, but a defense attorney told a jury that the encounter was between two consenting adults who engaged in “bizarre and aggressive behavior.”

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Tag alleged that Neuhart went with the woman to her Valencia Park home in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2016, after a night of drinking downtown. He went into her house and “ripped her clothes off and tried to rape her.”

The prosecutor said the alleged victim — who had worked under Neuhart’s command in a helicopter squadron in Guam — respected the defendant but told him that night that she wasn’t interested in having sex with him.

“This is about a man taking what he wants,” Tag told the jury. “To the defendant, no didn’t mean no. This was a game to him.”

When Neuhart broke into the woman’s home and attacked her, she screamed like she was being “murdered,” prompting a neighbor to call 911, the prosecutor said.

The woman told the defendant, “I didn’t want this. I didn’t agree to this,” Tag told the jury.

Neuhart, 40, knew the woman was intoxicated and was not going to leave her home “until he gets what he wants,” the prosecutor said.

Once Neuhart broke in, he ordered her to get a condom so they could have sex, Tag told the jury.

“He tells her, `I’ve wanted you for a long time,” the prosecutor said.

When the woman asks him why he would want to be with a woman who doesn’t want him, he said he doesn’t take no for an answer, the prosecutor said.

In a video recorded by the defendant on his cell phone about 3 a.m., the woman is heard saying “no, stop, or get off” at least 90 times in a 15-minute period, Tag told the jury.

“This is not an issue of consent,” the prosecutor said. “This is a hard `no.”‘

Defense attorney Kerry Armstrong told the jury that the alleged victim was not telling the truth when she said that she wasn’t attracted to Neuhart.

The woman gave the defendant mixed signals by kissing and hugging him during a limousine ride to her residence, Armstrong said.

Neuhart testified that he set up his cell phone outside the alleged victim’s door so he would have evidence in case she claimed rape.

The defendant, a married Iraq War veteran, was relieved as commander of the helicopter squadron after his arrest.

Neuhart — who is still in the Navy — faces life in prison if convicted of assault with intent to commit rape during a burglary, attempted forcible rape and other counts.