Physician convicted in Mid sex tape case

Court-martial finds academy doctor betrayed trust

November 10, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- A Navy physician was sentenced yesterday to nearly four years in the brig after a military jury found that he had secretly recorded Naval Academy midshipmen having sex in his Annapolis home.

The jury also dismissed Cmdr. Kevin J. Ronan from the Navy and took away his government pension.

The 10-day general court-martial at the Washington Navy Yard concluded with Ronan, who turns 42 today, being escorted in handcuffs through a cold rain into a van. He declined to talk to reporters.

Before sentencing, Ronan told jurors it was a "privilege" to wear the Navy uniform and that he never dishonored it during his 16 years in the military. But he expressed regret at buying the surveillance equipment that was used to tape the midshipmen.

"A crime occurred in my house with equipment I knowingly provided," Ronan said. "I take responsibility for that and the people that were hurt by that."

In the morning, the jury convicted Ronan of all charges against him - seven counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, three counts of illegal wiretapping and one count of obstruction of justice.

Ronan's father, Francis Ronan, said after the verdict that the family was "devastated."

"I did not expect this," said Francis Ronan, who had traveled from New Hampshire with his wife. "It's been a miserable nine months."

Ronan, currently assigned to the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, could have been sentenced to up to 27 years in a Navy prison. Prosecutors asked for at least 46 months, representing the time it takes for midshipmen to graduate from the academy.

"It's that experience that Dr. Ronan tarnished" for nine current or former midshipmen who stayed at his home, said Lt. Justin Henderson, an assistant prosecutor.

Henderson compared Ronan to a "stranger in a van offering a little kid candy. Except he was not a stranger. This is a senior officer, a doctor, a parent figure."

The jury of five men and one woman - all Navy captains - took about 30 minutes to come up with the sentence of 46 months, after spending a combined seven hours Thursday and yesterday weighing the evidence before convicting Ronan. The sentence and conviction must be approved by the convening authority - in this case, the Navy's surgeon general.

Ronan's civilian attorney, William Ferris, called the sentence "ridiculous." He said he planned to appeal the conviction on the grounds that the judge inappropriately allowed prosecutors to use some of the 2,000-plus images of gay pornography found on Ronan's computer as part of their case.

Ronan, a pediatrician who was assigned to the Naval Academy in 2002 as a brigade medical officer and doctor to several sports teams, hosted about a dozen midshipmen at his home on weekends and during other free time as part of the academy's sponsor program.

He testified this week that he considered himself a mentor to the Mids he called "my guys" but bought the hidden camera in April 2006 because he was worried about them having parties at his house while he was away.

Prosecutors say the camera carried a live feed to recording equipment and a television in Ronan's bedroom, and videos were burned on digital videodiscs. At least nine current or former midshipmen and one civilian woman appeared on the recordings, some of which were played during the trial.

A former midshipman testified that he found some of the sexually explicit digital videodiscs and tapes in January, when Ronan was traveling with the Naval Academy's gymnastics team. He told a fellow midshipman about the discovery, and the pair said they searched Ronan's house and found more recordings, some of which they turned over to authorities days later.

Ronan's defense had suggested that the two hadn't found the tapes but instead had made them in a plot to extort money from Ronan. One of the former midshipmen had been expelled earlier that month and owed the academy more than $120,000. But on the stand, Ronan declined to offer an explanation for how the DVDs had been created and would not blame the young men.

Before sentencing, the young man who found the first set of tapes told the jury that Ronan was like a parent to him. "To be betrayed and to have him try to put this on me and not try to take responsibility, that was probably one of the most difficult parts," the former midshipman said.

The Sun does not name the alleged victims of sex crimes.

A female midshipman who appears in the videos said the crime has caused her to lose trust in people, including family and friends.

"Everywhere I go, I check vents, drains," said the Mid, who was 19 at the time the tapes were discovered. "I've had to remove the ceiling tiles in my rooms just to make myself more comfortable."

Another woman, a civilian, tearfully stated that she could no longer try clothes on in a fitting room without suspecting that she was being watched.

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