Rape charges let go for Mid

Morrison still faces lesser counts

Owens' rape acquittal upheld

January 19, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

The Naval Academy has dropped rape charges against a former football player who was accused of drugging and raping two midshipmen, marking the second time in recent months that a high-profile sexual misconduct case brought by the Annapolis military college has come apart.

Kenny Ray Morrison, 24, will face a court-martial on four lesser offenses in connection with the two separate incidents after expert witnesses testified that the female midshipmen had not been given a date-rape drug, according to charging documents released yesterday.

Meanwhile, a vice admiral reviewing the military trial of former Navy quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. has upheld the court's finding of not guilty of rape and sentence of no punishment for two minor offenses, Navy officials said yesterday.

The academy will hold a private, internal hearing to determine whether he will be allowed to graduate and receive a commission or be kicked out and forced to repay the $140,000 cost of his education, a school spokeswoman said.

These setbacks illustrate the academy's struggle to hold Mids accountable for sexual impropriety. Since 2001, two of 39 midshipmen accused of sexual misconduct have been convicted at trial, although a midshipman has never been convicted of rape at court-martial.

The academy initially charged Morrison with indecent assault and other offenses related to a Feb. 4 incident at a Washington hotel party attended by several teammates. Those charges were upgraded to rape in September when prosecutors said they had new evidence that Morrison had drugged and raped her that night, as well as another woman on April 21 at an Annapolis home.

But testimony in pretrial hearings last month cast doubt on the hair analysis used to prove Morrison drugged the women. The Kingwood, Texas, native now faces two counts of indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer.

If found guilty, Morrison could be sentenced to a maximum of 12 years in prison.

William Ferris, Morrison's civilian attorney, was unavailable for comment, although he has asserted that the midshipman had consensual sex with both women.

"These cases are always sad," Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, academy superintendent, said in a statement yesterday. "We have midshipmen who reported being assaulted and a midshipman accused of assault. It is now up to the military court to decide the proper outcome of the case. I ask everyone to let the process proceed without jumping to conclusions or believing they are aware of all the factors being considered."

While he has aggressively sought to stamp out sexual misconduct, he has been dogged by accusations of pro-victim bias from defense lawyers and alumni. Rempt withdrew from last year's case of a professor accused of speaking crudely to midshipmen and recused himself from the official review of Owens' case.

Academy officials have said Rempt has been fair, and spokeswoman Deborah Goode said in a statement yesterday that the school's objective in these cases has been "to ensure justice is served, while preserving the rights of the accused, protecting the privacy of those involved, upholding Navy and Naval Academy policies, and ensuring consistency and balance in conduct actions."

Owens, the most valuable player of Navy's bowl-winning season in 2005, was acquitted in July of raping a female midshipman after a night of heavy drinking in Annapolis. He was convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and disobeying an order not to go near his accuser.

Like Morrison, Owens has been assigned to the Washington Navy Yard on pay of about $800 a month while the legal proceedings have continued. Owens has been awaiting the official review of his case and Rempt's decision on whether he will be expelled or allowed to move on with his Navy career.

Vice Adm. Paul Sullivan, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, validated the trial record and approved the court's findings yesterday. A Navy spokesman said Sullivan had no comment.

Reid Weingarten, Owens' civilian attorney, declined to comment.

There was no timeline set for the academy's private administrative hearing, Goode said, and Rempt would not recuse himself from overseeing that process.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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