Teen-ager tells of Marine touching her

Eight witnesses appear on first day of recruiter's assault, sex offense trial

November 19, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn E. Potwin stopped and apologized when the teen-age recruit asked him to quit rubbing her thigh during a recruiting tour through parts of Howard County, the teen-ager testified yesterday.

So when they got back to Potwin's Columbia office late March 28, the teen-ager said that she figured he wouldn't try to fondle her again -- until he put his hand on her leg and up her shirt.

"For awhile, I just sat there because I couldn't believe what he was actually doing," the girl said, sniffling. " ... I was like, `You need to stop.' "

The teen-ager was among eight witnesses who testified in Howard County District Court yesterday during the first day of Potwin's trial on charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offense.

Potwin, who worked as a recruiter with several Howard high schools but has since been removed from that job, has acknowledged that he touched the girl, who was a 17-year-old Glenelg High School senior at the time and has since turned 18. But he has insisted that contact was consensual, lawyers said.

While what he did may have been "inappropriate, it is our position ... there was no criminal contact between these two," Potwin's lawyer, William V. Tucker, told Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman, who is trying the case.

Yesterday's testimony provided a contrasting portrait of the relationship between the 26-year-old Potwin and the teen-ager, who enlisted in the Marine Corps as part of a delayed-entry program at the end of her junior year but opted out this spring.

The teen-ager described their contacts as those of a recruiter and recruit who had developed a close friendship. The Sun does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.

"I thought he was a very good person," the teen said. She turned her body toward the prosecutor's chair throughout her testimony and kept her back to Potwin. "I looked up to him as a mentor."

But one of Potwin's close friends and his wife described the girl's actions toward Potwin as flirtatious and unusual.

The teen-ager left notes in the office, including one commenting on Potwin's buttocks, and when she was in the office, the talk would often turn to sex, said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dixon, who also was a recruiter in the Columbia office until late summer last year. And she frequently called Potwin's cellular phone, at times after 10 p.m., Potwin's wife, Diana, testified.

"I trust him with my life," Dixon said. "He's a great guy."

But one of the girl's close friends said the teen-ager called her, crying and "confused," the night of March 28 and told her she had been assaulted. And the teen's mother testified that she confronted Potwin after learning of the incident from her daughter.

Potwin acknowledged that he "did cross the line," the mother testified. The Sun is not naming the mother to protect the teen-ager's identity.

The teen-ager testified that she told Potwin to stop touching her several times the night of the incident. She said she waited almost two months to report the incident because she didn't want to hurt Potwin's family.

The touching "made me feel disgusted," she said. "... He was married and had kids, and that's just something you don't do. ... It's wrong."

Potwin, of the first block of Harvard Road in Glen Burnie, is to take the stand when testimony resumes Tuesday.

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