Midshipman's lawyers to get more leeway in jury selection

Former Navy football player Morrison accused of indecent assault

March 08, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The Naval Academy superintendent's hard line against sexual abuse will play a role in next month's trial of a former Navy football player, after a military judge's ruling yesterday.

Marine Col. Steven F. Day will give attorneys for Kenny Ray Morrison, 24, more leeway in choosing a jury, going along with a previous judge who questioned e-mails and a training video distributed by Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt.

But Day, chief judge of the Navy Marine Corps Trial Judiciary, did not agree with the finding by Lt. Col. Paul McConnell that Rempt might have had undue influence over possible jurors.

"There is certainly no evidence of unlawful command influence," Day told lawyers in a courtroom at the Washington Navy Yard. "I'm not sure there is enough evidence to suggest that there is even an appearance of unlawful command influence."

Day said the acquittal of former Navy quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. on rape charges "belies" the allegations of improper influence by Rempt. Owens was convicted of two minor charges in July. He was not sentenced to punishment, and Rempt has since recommended his expulsion.

Day will allow prosecutors to submit as evidence a 44-minute taped conversation between Morrison and one of his two accusers. Investigators asked the woman to make the call, in which Morrison acknowledges that they had sex.

Rape charges against Morrison, a backup linebacker, were dropped after evidence that he gave the women a date rape drug was discredited. He is charged with two counts of indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after having sex with one woman in a Georgetown hotel in February and with the second at a private home in April. Both women said they had been drinking heavily.

Morrison's lawyers contended that a training video shown to faculty and staff at the military college in Annapolis last spring insinuated that believing a person who maintains that sex was consensual when he stands accused of sexual assault is wrong.

Outside of the hearing, William Ferris, Morrison's civilian lawyer, asked, "Are you taking it to the point where [jury] members couldn't make a fair decision?"

He also alleged that e-mails to the academy staff from Rempt on the subject of sexual assault showed bias against the accused.

Military lawyers did not concede any undue influence by Rempt. But they said that to be cautious, they agreed that the court could "liberally" remove potential jurors.

In addition, Morrison can have two pre-emptory challenges -- throwing someone off the jury panel for no reason -- instead of the usual one granted to each side. The trial is to start April 2.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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