Mid said to defy distance order

Witness says Owens passed by woman's room

hearing halts

March 10, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Testimony abruptly ended yesterday in the pretrial hearing of the former Navy quarterback accused of rape when it was revealed that Lamar S. Owens Jr. allegedly violated an order to stay 100 feet away from his accuser, a female midshipman.

Navy officials said Owens could face additional charges of violating that protective order and disobeying an order by downloading pornography. A Navy officer testified that Owens walked past the alleged victim's dorm room Feb. 9, three days after she reported the alleged sexual assault, and that she observed him.

"As soon as I saw him, I couldn't believe he was on the deck," Lt. Ryan Frommelt, a junior officer at the academy, said of Owens, who had been allowed to stay at the Naval Academy dormitory.

Owens, 22, is charged with rape, assault and conduct unbecoming an officer in the alleged sexual assault of the 20-year-old woman early on the morning of Jan. 29, according to the Naval Academy. His lawyer has said Owens is innocent.

Yesterday's hearing was postponed until April 3 so that Owens' defense team can have his computer examined.

Owens, from Savannah, Ga., did not testify during the two-day hearing. He sat quietly next to his lawyers and showed little emotion.

A friend of the woman said in testimony that students at the Annapolis military college had begun to ostracize the woman, whose identity has become known.

"Some people are not really standing by her," said the female friend, adding that the woman was afraid to report the incident to investigators for fear of being "crucified" by fellow students at the academy.

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The testimony was heard on the second day of Owens' Article 32 hearing, a pretrial investigation by a military officer akin to a civilian grand jury. The investigating officer can recommend a court-martial, administrative punishment or no action to the academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt. The superintendent will then decide what action to take.

Over two days of hearings, Cmdr. David Wilson, a Navy prosecutor, questioned the alleged victim, her boyfriend, three of her friends, a Navy investigator and her company officer.

Wilson also played a tape recording of a phone conversation, made with the help of Navy investigators Feb. 8, in which Owens tearfully apologized to the alleged victim, at one point saying: "I'm so sorry. ... I woke up the next day and I called you, and I wanted to kill myself, and I still feel like that."

The alleged victim testified Wednesday that she awoke early Jan. 29 to find Owens kissing her and that the next thing she remembered was waking up to find her pants off and Owens having sex with her.

Defense questions

Although defense attorneys called only one witness, Owens' side of the story was presented yesterday in cross-examinations by his defense team, including pointed questions about why the accuser's friends immediately assumed Owens was guilty.

Steven F. Wrobel, Owens' civilian attorney, questioned a close friend of the alleged victim about how she had confronted Owens after the attack and whether the questioning had been orchestrated by his accuser.

The close friend agreed that she and another friend had been direct with Owens and that, when confronted, he told her his version of events:

"I don't really remember all of it. I was pretty drunk, so was she. We started talking, and things just escalated," she recalled him as saying.

Different recollection

The friend said that after she told Owens that the alleged victim didn't remember the encounter that way, Owens asked: "What is she saying this is, then?" The friend said she asked Owens if the alleged victim "gave any signs that this was what she wanted?" He said no, the friend testified.

Later, she said, Owens told her, "I don't know what I was thinking. I should have left."

Wrobel repeatedly asked the friend whether the sex between Owens and his accuser could have been consensual because both had admitted being drunk, and whether remorse shown by Owens could have been the sorrow of a poorly considered consensual sexual encounter.

The friend conceded the possibility.

She also testified about the fear that the alleged victim faced when deciding whether to pursue rape charges against Owens.

"Any girl at our school who turns in a guy is going to be crucified," the friend said. "And he was Midshipman Owens, he was the quarterback of the football team, a very good football team. He leads Bible study, and this was a terrible position to put her in."

During questioning of the friend and others, Wrobel also focused on the possibility that the accuser said she was raped to avoid getting into trouble for underage drinking and having sex in Bancroft Hall, either of which could result in disciplinary action at the academy. Consensual sex is banned in the dormitory and can lead to expulsion.

The hearing also offered the first description of how the academy has gone about protecting the alleged victim and separating her and Owens.

Frommelt said that in addition to the protective order, Owens had been removed from the woman's "company," a group of midshipmen who live together and interact during training and development exercises. After the hearing, Wrobel made a brief statement to reporters, saying he would wait until the conclusion of the investigation to make specific comments.

"The charges that are pending against my client right now all involve some nature of a sexual assault," he said. "My belief, my analysis, is that those charges should not go forward past this Article 32."

brad.olson@baltsun.com

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