Navy trial in rape case

Mids' quarterback to face most serious form of court-martial

April 29, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

Lamar Owens, Navy's former standout quarterback, will face a court-martial for allegedly raping a female midshipman, the Naval Academy announced yesterday.

Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy's superintendent, made the decision to seek the most serious form of military trial, which could send Owens to prison for life.

No date was set, but Owens, a senior, might be barred from graduating next month.

"Due to the severity of the charges and the time it may take for the allegations to go to trial, the accused and his family have been advised that it is unlikely that he will be allowed to graduate on time," said Deborah Goode, spokeswoman for the academy.

Meanwhile, another football player will face a court-martial for sexual misconduct related to a Feb. 4 incident in Washington.

Neither the academy, which announced the decision yesterday, nor the man's attorney would release his name. His case was first reported in The Sun in February amid the Owens fallout.

A senior, he is charged with indecent assault, indecent acts and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Charging documents say that he lifted the alleged victim from the hotel bed in which she was sleeping, carried her to another bed and removed her clothes "with intent to gratify his sexual desires."

The documents also allege that the accused midshipman attempted to "take advantage" of the alleged victim and "her partial incapacitation resulting from consumption of alcohol and pressuring her, presuming consent, to engage in multiple acts of sexual intercourse in the presence of another midshipman."

He also allegedly engaged in multiple acts of sexual intercourse in front of another midshipman and exposed himself to several midshipmen.

His attorney, William Ferris, declined to say whether he is a Navy football player or to comment on the charges.

Ferris also said it was highly unusual for the charges to be brought in a "special court-martial," a midlevel trial usually reserved for misdemeanors that can result in a year in jail, fines, forfeiture of pay and reprimands.

Unlike a general court-martial, which Owens faces, a special court-martial can be called by a commanding officer - Rempt, in this case - without a preliminary Article 32 hearing. No date was set for the special court-martial.

Both incidents came on the heels of Rempt's schoolwide crackdown on sexual harassment, assault and underage drinking, which is a factor in most such cases.

In addition to Owens and the second midshipman, an academy crew team member was dismissed last month for a consensual encounter that was against academy rules. A professor faces a court-martial on allegations of using sexually explicit language in front of midshipmen.

Still, the academy struggled to correct what a Pentagon task force last year termed a "hostile" atmosphere for women on the Annapolis campus.

According to data released by the academy last month, 56 allegations of sexual assault involving midshipmen have surfaced since 2001, only two of which resulted in convictions and sentences of one year in prison. Other cases are still under investigation or were handled with administrative punishment, such as expulsion.

Surveys conducted by the academy have shown some improvement with the climate, including the atmosphere for reporting assault.

Still, less than half of the female midshipmen at the academy - 44 percent - believe that the school provides a positive environment for women, one survey found. That is up, however, from 24 percent in 2003.

Owens, 22, faces charges of rape, indecent acts, assault, conduct unbecoming an officer and violating an order to stay away from the alleged victim.

At his Article 32 hearing - a preliminary trial held March 8 and 9 to determine if enough evidence exists to proceed to court-martial - prosecutors played a taped conversation that the alleged victim had with Owens after the Jan. 29 incident. It was recorded by a Navy investigator.

Voted most valuable player by his teammates for a bowl-winning season last year, Owens tearfully apologized to the woman.

"I didn't do it long," he said, and later added: "You weren't awake, and I stopped."

His accuser, a junior and varsity athlete at the academy, asked him what she should tell her parents, her brother and her little sister.

Owens could be heard crying on the tape, and then said, "I could never expect you to forgive me."

Steven F. Wrobel, Owens' attorney, sought in the hearing to cast the conversation as regret on Owens' part for a poorly considered sexual encounter.

During cross-examination, the alleged victim acknowledged being drunk and was asked whether it was possible that she gave Owens her consent and didn't remember.

"I suppose," she said but later countered: "I wouldn't define it as consent if I can't remember it happening."

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

After the Article 32 hearing, the officer who heard the case made a recommendation to Rempt on whether Owens should be court-martialed. The academy declined to say what that officer recommended. Calls made yesterday afternoon to Wrobel, Owens' attorney, were not returned.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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