Mid tells jury of rape in her dorm

Defense attacks credibility, says Navy QB had consensual sex

July 12, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- A female midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy testified yesterday that Lamar Owens - Navy's star quarterback last season - raped her after a night of heavy drinking in January, but defense attorneys attacked the woman's credibility and said the sex was consensual.

"I was sobbing," the woman told a packed military courtroom, describing to a Navy prosecutor her state shortly after the alleged rape. "I was scared, sir."

Asked why, she said: "He had just - Midshipman Owens had just raped me."

The brief pause was as close as the midshipman came to losing her composure during six hours of testimony yesterday at the Washington Navy Yard. She spoke evenly about the experience during the first day of Owens' court-martial on charges of rape and other offenses.

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Defense attorneys presented Owens' side of the story for the first time since he was charged in February.

Reid Weingarten, Owens' civilian attorney, said that the woman sent Owens an instant message and invited him to her Bancroft Hall dorm room in the early-morning hours of Jan. 29. He went there, followed her into bed and began having consensual sex, Weingarten said. The female midshipman fell asleep and Owens left, Weingarten said.

When Owens expressed remorse to the woman's friends and then to her in a phone conversation recorded by a Navy investigator Feb. 8, Weingarten said his client "saw his life flashing before him" and made potentially incriminating statements to appease the woman.

"He showed poor judgment when he went to that woman's room," Weingarten said. "But five minutes of poor judgment should not ruin his life."

The trial is one of three sexual misconduct cases being brought by Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the Naval Academy superintendent. He has taken an aggressive stance against sexual assaults in the aftermath of studies and surveys that have found a hostile climate toward women at the academy.

Owens is charged with rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and violating a military protective order not to go near the female midshipman after the incident. Owens, a 22-year-old senior, was not allowed to graduate in May. If convicted, he could face life in prison, though such a sentence is rare.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Owens could be expelled from the Navy because the suspected incident took place in Bancroft Hall. The dorm is considered tantamount to a Navy ship, where consensual sexual relations are prohibited.

In a brief opening statement, Lt. Kathleen Helmann, a Navy prosecutor in the case, said Owens entered the female midshipman's room without permission, had sex with her even after she pushed him away and showed remorse in the days afterward.

"He had sex with her when she was incapacitated with alcohol and unable to stop him," she said.

Helmann conceded that the woman, 20, "was very drunk" but added that she had "no motive to lie in this case."

Weingarten began his remarks by telling the jury's five academy officers - four men and a woman - Owens' personal story. He grew up in Savannah, Ga.; his father works for a power company in Georgia and his mother is a prenatal nurse.

"The more you get to know Lamar Owens, the stronger our case will be," Weingarten said.

He pointed out that Owens led the team to "a spectacular season" and was voted most valuable player by his teammates. On Monday, the defense indicated that Navy head coach Paul Johnson would testify on Owens' behalf.

Weingarten assailed the character of the female midshipman. He said she had "a very serious drinking problem" that caused her to black out and not remember her actions. When the woman drinks, he said, she "loosens up and becomes very aggressive with guys."

The woman gave a decidedly different version of events, testifying that she did not consent to sex with Owens.

She admitted to drinking heavily on the night of Jan. 28 at an Annapolis bar and said she walked home, fell asleep and awoke to Owens kissing her.

When she resisted by turning away and telling him she had a boyfriend, Owens climbed onto her bed and raped her, she said. She said she did not tell him "no" or call out to her roommate, who was sleeping nearby. She said she tried pushing herself away from Owens, but that the assault continued. When she resisted again, he stopped and left, according to her testimony.

She immediately called her boyfriend - who had been with her throughout the night and had left about an hour earlier - because she "felt scared," she said.

The two sides offered divergent accounts in several areas.

The female midshipman said she "barely knew" Owens and often "changed the subject" when he was flirtatious in instant message conversations. She said she knew Owens and would say hello and have small talk with him occasionally but was "not interested" in a relationship with him.

Weingarten said Owens had been a mentor to her at one point and that the two had flirted and developed a relationship in the weeks before the incident.

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