Ex-Mids star has powerful support

Alumni back Owens in expulsion case

April 08, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

A former Navy quarterback who was acquitted of rape and now faces expulsion from the Naval Academy took his case to Washington last week, urging members of Congress to support his attempts to graduate and become an officer.

Securing the free assistance of several people from lobbying giant Cassidy & Associates is the latest step for Lamar S. Owens Jr.'s supporters, a group that includes a growing number of academy alumni with a wide range of influence garnered from prominent careers in the public and private sectors.

In addition to flooding the Navy secretary's office with hundreds of letters backing Owens in recent months, academy graduates helped him procure a big-name defense lawyer and rallied to force the school's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, to recuse himself from the post-trial phase of the court-martial.

The effort on behalf of Owens - one of two former midshipmen accused of sexual assault last year - has also spread to social networking Web sites, including a group on Facebook that now has 800 members.

"It's the greatest fraternity in the world," retired Vice Adm. Ed Straw said of Navy alumni, Despite what he described as a friendship with Rempt, Straw orchestrated the letter-writing of more than 100 alumni to Assistant Navy Secretary William Navas. "It's a strong network, and they take positions on lots of issues. I've talked to dozens of graduates about this case, and I haven't spoken to one who agrees with Rod Rempt's decision."

Owens' parents have begun to speak out about "injustices" they perceive in their son's treatment, such as his assignment to temporary duty at the Washington Navy Yard, for which he has received midshipman pay - slightly more than $5 an hour - since May. They are also reaching out to the leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In her first interview since her son was charged with rape last year, his mother, Kimberly, said last week that her family is "outraged."

Speaking on behalf of the family, she said it wasn't fair for the academy to use its own administrative conduct system to expel her son after a jury acquitted him.

"Is that the American way? Is that our justice system?" she asked: "`If I can't get you one way, criminally, I'll get you in another one. I'll destroy you. I'll take everything from you, your diploma and your commission.'"

Kimberly Owens, a nurse in Savannah, Ga., said she still holds out hope that her son will graduate and receive a commission.

"My views have not changed," she said. "Lamar is still on track to be one of the finest naval officers the Naval Academy has graduated. I'm not straying from that. Because to me, that's who he is. ... Why should his life turn to the left when everybody else's life is going on?"

Owens was accused of raping a female midshipman in her dorm room on Jan. 29, 2006, after they had been out drinking. He was sentenced to "no punishment" after being found innocent of rape but guilty of two minor charges: conduct unbecoming an officer for having sex in the academy dorm and violating an order to stay away from his accuser.

The trial of the second midshipman, former backup linebacker Kenny Ray Morrison, continues tomorrow. He is accused of sexually assaulting two female Mids in separate incidents last year. His attorney has said the sex was consensual.

Sources familiar with Owens' case have said Rempt justified his recommendation to expel him by pointing to the two convictions, the alleged existence of pornography on Owens' computer, demerits accumulated at the academy and a poor "military aptitude" score during his final semester there, after rape charges had been brought against him.

In an effort to prevent his expulsion, Owens, his father, a family friend and a lobbyist visited the offices of the Georgia and Maryland congressional delegations Tuesday and Thursday.

Denny Vaughan, a 1963 Annapolis graduate and retired rear admiral who lobbies Congress on military issues for Cassidy, said that he and a co-worker are helping Owens on their own to gain critical support on the Hill.

Vaughan, a former colleague of Rempt's in the Pentagon, said he was baffled by everything he read and heard about the Owens case. After sitting down with the former standout football player and his family last month, he was "impressed with his demeanor and character," he said.

"I wanted to at least make sure that Lamar had the opportunity to get his story told to his own congressional delegation and let them make the decision themselves," he said. "This is this kid's whole life. It's extremely, extremely serious, and we need to make sure we get it right. For me, the reason I'm involved is that in the Navy family, we always believe in helping a shipmate."

One of the seven offices they visited was that of Rep. Jack Kingston, who represents Owens' hometown of Savannah.

Jeff Glenn, a military aide for the Georgia Republican, said the meeting went "very well."

"Congressman Kingston has been involved in Lamar's case since the beginning," Glenn said. "He's written two letters to [the Navy secretary], one in the fall and one this past week, wanting to reiterate this concern that this case comes to a fair and impartial resolution, both for Midshipman Owens and for the Navy."

While Kingston's letters do not ask for a specific outcome, both seem to lean in Owens' favor. The first letter, dated Aug. 21, asks the Navy secretary to consider that before the allegations, "Lamar's performance has been nothing less than exceptional."

The second, dated April 2, notes that while the minor court-martial convictions against Owens "are serious, they are normally handled administratively."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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