Drop rape counts, Mid's lawyer asks

Hair analysis finds virtually no date-rape drug

December 21, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The lawyer for a former Navy football player accused in two rape cases asked military officials yesterday to drop the charges after expert testimony that there were no significant amounts of a date-rape drug in the hair of the two alleged victims.

"The government's own evidence destroys their case," defense attorney William M. Ferris argued at the close of the preliminary hearing for Kenny Ray Morrison, 24. Ferris noted that military prosecutors alleged that the sexual assaults were facilitated by the use of a date-rape drug, GHB.

The allegations stem from complaints that Morrison raped two female midshipmen - one in February at a hotel near Georgetown, the other in April at an Annapolis house.

The results cast doubt on the findings in an earlier government analysis, which pointed to the presence of the drug in the women's hair - but not at high concentrations - during the time of the alleged rapes.

The investigating officer will recommend to the superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, whether to court-martial Morrison. But Ferris said that he wants Rempt out of Morrison's legal case.

Ferris said he will ask Rempt, who brought the charges, to recuse himself for the same reasons that Rempt withdrew last week from the court-martial on sexual assault charges of former Navy quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr.

"If he doesn't [recuse himself], I'm going to file a motion" to have Rempt removed as convening authority over the case, Ferris said.

A Naval Academy spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Owens' lawyer, bolstered by angry alumni, has claimed that Rempt is not impartial, which the academy denies. The two cases, and an unsuccessful sexual harassment case brought by Rempt against a professor, have drawn angry criticism at the Annapolis military college.

Furious alumni have disparaged Rempt as pursuing a political agenda to mollify women's organizations and congressional critics, two groups that have insisted that the Navy rein in midshipmen.

The legal case against Owens, 23, of Savannah, Ga., is farther along. He was acquitted of rape at a court-martial in July but convicted of two lesser counts. No punishment was recommended. But the convening authority has the power to erase or agree with the guilty findings, and that is the role Rempt has relinquished.

But Rempt can pursue Owens or Morrison administratively after the legal proceedings; either could be expelled and required to repay the government for the $140,000 cost of his education.

Vice Adm. Paul Sullivan, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command and a 1974 graduate of the academy, will replace Rempt as the convening authority in Owens' case, Navy officials said yesterday.

Morrison, from Kingwood, Texas, was not allowed to graduate in May because he is charged with two counts of rape, drug distribution and assault and several less serious counts. If convicted, he could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison. He says he is innocent.

Yesterday's reopening of the Article 32 hearing for Morrison, akin to a preliminary hearing, was limited to testimony about the second hair analysis on the two female midshipmen who said they suspected Morrison gave them a date-rape drug before sexually assaulting them. They reported feeling unusually woozy, though both acknowledged they had been drinking.

One woman testified last month that she woke up Feb. 4 in a Georgetown-area hotel room in Washington after drinking heavily and was unable to fight off Morrison's repeated sexual assaults. The other told authorities that she blacked out after drinking five beers at an Annapolis bar on April 21, and that Morrison had given her the final drink. She testified that she woke up, naked and with Morrison beside her, in a strange Annapolis home.

GHB, known as a date-rape drug, is also used recreationally.

Results of the second hair analysis, sought last month by military prosecutors, showed naturally occurring low levels of gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, in the women's hair, said pharmacist Pascal Kintz, director of ChemTox, a French lab.

"We can say with huge accuracy that there was not exposure to GHB," Kintz said.

Kintz, who testified by telephone, said that his tests indicated the presence of other sedatives in one of the women - but well after the time of the alleged sexual assault. One drug was in the family of valium, the other commonly known as Ambien. Use of GHB and other drugs shows up in hair; how far that is from the root indicates how long ago, Kintz said.

Yesterday, Morrison and Ferris smiled broadly after Kintz's testimony in a courtroom at the Washington Navy Yard.

Military prosecutor Cmdr. Jeffrey Hunt concluded by saying it was up to the investigating officer "how to interpret the divergent results between" the two laboratories.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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