A group of Naval Academy alumni plan to seek presidential pardons for two former football players who were court-martialed on sexual assault-related charges.
The group of academy graduates is being led by Peter Optekar, a former Navy football player and member of the Class of 1963 who said he has been active in defending other Navy players who have been unfairly treated.
The former players, quarterback Lamar Owens Jr. and reserve player Kenneth Ray Morrison, both went to trial after being charged with sexually assaulting female midshipmen. Owens was acquitted of rape in 2006 but was convicted of two lesser charges, which led to his expulsion and the forced repayment of $90,000 in tuition. During Owens' trial, some accused Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the Naval Academy superintendent at the time, of manipulating the jury to gain a conviction against Owens.
In 2007, Morrison was found guilty of indecent assault and conduct unbecoming of an officer for having sex in an academy dormitory without the woman's consent, and a military judge declined to grant him a new trial. He was sentenced to two years.
"Both these gentlemen ... weren't guilty of sexual assault," said Optekar, who lives in Idaho. He called the Naval Academy's actions against the men an "irrational and overzealous method."
About four academy alumni are involved in the petition effort, Optekar said. He added that although he is unsure when the group will present its pardon request, he hopes that more graduates will help with the effort.
Optekar said he and his wife helped raise money so Owens could finish his college career at the University of Maryland.
"They were both great people," Optekar said of Owens and Morrison.
Academy spokeswoman Judy Campbell said the case "is no longer the purview of the Naval Academy, therefore we have nothing to offer."