A 27-year-old Marine convicted of fondling a Howard County teen-age recruit last spring was sentenced yesterday to probation before judgment, a disposition that will keep the guilty verdict off his record.
Saying that the "positive" in Staff Sgt. Shawn E. Potwin "well outweighs the negative," Howard District Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman sentenced the former Marine recruiter and Glen Burnie resident to 18 months of supervised probation and ordered him to seek sexual harassment counseling.
"You may have misinterpreted the actions of an outgoing, flirting teen-ager," Hantman said before imposing the sentence. "She was a kid. You were her recruiter. You were her mentor. She looked up to you. She may have worshipped you from afar, but that doesn't mean she intended to act on it or wanted you to act on it."
Hantman also fined Potwin $100 and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service.
After the hearing, prosecutor Colby Hall said his office "felt that justice was served and that the victim was heard."
Potwin said he was just glad the case was over.
"Me and my wife are looking forward to moving on," he said.
Yesterday's sentencing came at the end of an emotional, tear-filled hearing that featured praise for a man witnesses described as an honorable, hard-working Marine who went out of his way to help his recruits succeed and who often helped strangers - once chasing a man who robbed two women at gunpoint. One of the assailants shot at him during the pursuit.
Witnesses said they still did not believe that Potwin did anything criminal, and Potwin's wife said her husband is only guilty of "breaking my heart and breaking the fraternization code of the Marine Corps." Potwin continued to insist yesterday that although the sexual contact between him and the teen was "inappropriate," it was consensual.
But in a statement to the court, the teen-ager, who was a 17-year-old senior at Glenelg High School at the time and has since been discharged from the Marines, said the incident left her depressed, caused her to lose weight and ruined the last semester of her senior year in high school.
"It also has caused me to be afraid to trust people, especially men," she wrote. "What he did is a constant reminder in my mind."
The Sun does not identify victims of sexual assault.
The case, which was tried over two days in the fall, came down to a matter of credibility.
Both testified that Potwin touched the teen sexually during and after a recruiting tour through Howard County on March 28, but they disagreed over whether the contact was consensual. The victim testified that she told Potwin to stop more than once, while the Marine said that she initiated the contact and that he stopped when she asked him to.
Hantman said she believed the victim and convicted Potwin of misdemeanor assault and a fourth-degree sexual offense on Nov. 25.
Yesterday, Potwin and his attorney, William V. Tucker, told Hantman that the teen-ager's accusations had turned the Marine's life and career upside down.
Once primed for a promotion, Potwin was removed from his recruiting duties and lost both the money he earned for that job and half his monthly pay for a few months. He has since been reassigned to Andrews Air Force Base, where he works as a mechanic, Tucker said.
"I disgraced the Marine Corps and my family, which is really all that matters to me in life," a tearful Potwin told Hantman.