Argument ruled out in Navy doctor's case

October 10, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- A military judge declined yesterday to allow prosecutors to argue that a Navy doctor accused of secretly taping midshipmen having sex in his Annapolis home deliberately altered his handwriting to keep a key piece of evidence from being linked to him.

Prosecutors had hoped to suggest that Cmdr. Kevin Ronan, who hosted midshipmen on nights and weekends as part of the Naval Academy "sponsor" program, purposefully disguised his handwriting in samples given to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service so that it would not match the writing on a DVD of midshipmen engaged in sex acts.

Lt. Cmdr. Peter Clemow, the lead prosecutor, said the jury could see it as "evidence of a guilty conscience."

The judge, Marine Corps Col. Stephen Day, said the potential damage such an argument could do to Ronan's ability to defend himself "substantially" outweighed the claim's "minimal probative value."

Ronan was charged in July with seven counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, three counts of illegal wiretapping and one count of obstruction of justice.

A midshipman whom Ronan welcomed into his home while serving as an academy doctor turned in to Navy investigators a DVD showing him and his girlfriend having sex in Ronan's house. The video also depicts sex acts involving other midshipmen.

The midshipman, who has since graduated, has alleged that he came across the disc, labeled "lectures," while at Ronan's house on a weekend. He said he and his girlfriend were unaware of being taped. Ronan was stationed at the academy until May 2006. He is now at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington.

NCIS Special Agent Paul Leo, the lead investigator in the case, testified in the Washington Navy Yard courtroom yesterday that he examined writing samples collected from Ronan's workplace in Washington and had Ronan write in upper- and lower-case letters on note cards and on 30 DVDs in July. Leo submitted the samples for analysis by an Army laboratory, which concluded that Ronan had written "lectures" on the disc.

"I just noticed that he was very careful and very meticulous, and that he took his time as he wrote out the letters on the discs," Leo said.

William Ferris, Ronan's civilian attorney, argued that his client's carefulness was "not evidence of anything." The admission of such an argument - along with gay pornography found on Ronan's home computer - runs the "risk of turning all these other issues into a sideshow and this trial into a sideshow," he said.

This month, the court might weigh another evidence question dealing with whether testimony from a particular witness would violate rape shield laws.

The trial, which is expected to take two weeks, is scheduled to begin Oct. 29.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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