Marine guilty in touching of teen-ager

District judge convicts him of assault, sexual offense

`She told him no'

Sentencing set for Jan. 9

time in jail is possible

Columbia

November 26, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 26-year-old Marine accused of fondling a teen-age recruit during a recruiting tour through parts of Howard County in late March was convicted yesterday of misdemeanor assault and a sexual offense.

In a case that pitted the teen-ager's assertion that she told Staff Sgt. Shawn E. Potwin to stop touching her against his insistence that the contact was consensual, District Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman said yesterday that she believed the victim.

Not only did the teen-ager testify "that she told him no" the night of the assault, she also called her friend in tears the night of the incident, Hantman said.

And while Potwin testified that the teen-ager complimented him and showered him with attention - brushing up against him and leaving him notes - those actions fit into "his ideal fantasy," the judge said.

"So everything she did became an example [to him] of how she wanted more," Hantman said. "She said she didn't want more."

As Hantman handed down her verdict - guilty to charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offense - Potwin's wife bolted from the courtroom. "They don't know him like I know him," she wailed in the common area as Potwin's father tried to force her from the building, causing a commotion.

Potwin's lawyer, William V. Tucker, and prosecutor Colby Hall declined to comment later, saying they wanted to wait until after the scheduled sentencing Jan. 9. Both charges carry possible jail time.

The verdicts came after a day and a half of testimony and arguments revolving around one key question - whether the teen-ager consented to the touching.

Potwin, a nine-year Marine Corps veteran and a Glen Burnie resident, was working as a recruiter out of the Columbia office and the victim, then a 17-year-old senior at Glenelg High School, was a "poolee" - a recruit who enlisted through a delayed entry program.

At the time of the incident, the teen-ager was having second thoughts about her enlistment and has since been discharged from the Marines, according to testimony. The Sun does not name victims of sexual assault.

Potwin testified that the teen-ager stopped by his office more than other recruits, rubbed up against him, flirted and left him notes calling him "sexy" in the months leading up to the incident. On March 28, they both testified, they decided to tour through parts of Howard County in search of new recruits.

The touching started in the car, both testified. Potwin, who has since been relieved of his recruiting duties, said she grabbed his leg first and he massaged her thigh. The teen-ager testified last week that she "moved his hand and he placed it back on there and I moved it again."

At the recruiting office later, Potwin said he touched her sexually but stopped when she objected.

He testified yesterday that she told him it "would be different" if he wasn't married. The teen-ager testified last week that she said "no" to the contact more than once, and that the touching "made me feel disgusted."

When confronted about the incident, he said he owned up to his role. He "did something wrong morally," he said, by allowing the relationship to move from professional to personal.

"I did not keep a professional relationship with her, ... and that was inappropriate conduct on my part because it was my responsibility to keep it that way," he testified.

In closing arguments, Tucker insisted that his client's actions were not criminal.

"What I see is a dedicated Marine who acknowledged, `I did wrong,' " Tucker said. "He's not a powerful man. He's a human being. He's not the pope. He's not infallible. He made a mistake."

But Hall said the incident came down to "power" and the relationship between the recruiter and the recruit.

"This defendant took his power, and he abused it, and [the victim] paid the price," he said.

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