By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006 4:15 PM
The young man's voice was mournful as he apologized repeatedly to the woman he was accused of raping.
"I can never expect you to forgive me," Lamar S. Owens Jr. is heard telling the female midshipman in a phone conversation secretly recorded by investigators. "I don't know what's going to happen. I guess you're going to turn me in."
The recording provided compelling evidence on the first day of a preliminary hearing for Owens, last season's starting quarterback for the U.S. Naval Academy, who is accused of rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer.
The allegations have sent a shudder through the academy, where Owens is known as deeply religious and is well liked by his teammates. It also has opened old wounds at a school that has been stung by a series of sexual assault and harassment scandals in recent years.
Under cross-examination, the female midshipman acknowledged she had been drinking the evening before and had gaps in her memory. But the recording, taped nearly two weeks after the alleged incident, captured a clearly contrite Owens, apparently crying at points.
"When I woke up the next day, I really wanted to kill myself, and I still feel that way," he tells her.
Prodded by an investigator, who was standing nearby as the conversation was being taped, the woman asks Owens if he used a condom.
"No," he responded. "I didn't do it long."
"How long? " she asked.
"Not long. . . . You weren't awake, so I stopped."
Owens, 22, a senior from Savannah, Ga., sat quietly as the recording played. The Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury proceeding, will determine whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed to a court-martial. The hearing is scheduled to continue today.
If convicted, Owens could face penalties ranging from expulsion from the service to years in prison. His civilian attorney, Steven F. Wrobel, has said he expects his client to be cleared.
Owens led the Naval Academy to an 8-4 record and a bowl victory last season. He was voted most valuable player by his teammates.
The 20-year-old woman testified that she was raped in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 after she had been drinking heavily with friends at an Annapolis bar. She consumed at least eight drinks, including four shots, before leaving the bar near closing time. The Washington Post does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault.
The woman called her boyfriend, another midshipman, to help her to her dorm. She woke up about 3:15 a.m. and, after instant messaging her boyfriend on her computer, went back to sleep, she testified.
When she woke up again, she said, Owens was standing on a chair next to her elevated bunk and trying to kiss her. She said she clenched her lips and turned away, telling him that she had a boyfriend, she testified. She said the next thing she remembered, Owens was on top of her.
"My pants were off, and he was having sex with me," she said.
She said that neither of them said anything and that she did not tell him to stop or call out to her roommate, who was sleeping in the next bunk, for help.
"Why didn't you?" asked the prosecutor, Cmdr. David Wilson.
"I don't know," she said, adding that she did not consent.
The woman said she knew Owens casually and had seen him in the halls. He had once sent her a text message after spotting her at a bar, saying she "looked good," she testified.
The woman acknowledged that her memory of some of that evening was spotty.
"Isn't it possible that during these blackout periods that you don't recall that you could have had an instant message conversation with Midshipman Owens that led to some consensual activity?" Wrobel asked.
"I suppose so," the woman said.
"So what you've admitted is you may very well have consented? During these periods you blacked out?" Wrobel said.
"I wouldn't define it as consent if I don't remember it happening," she said. "I don't think I would have consented, because I was drunk."
The woman's boyfriend later testified that he received a text message from her after the alleged assault, saying, "I'm scared." He went to her room and found her curled up in a corner of the bed. She eventually told him, "I think I've been raped," he recalled. The woman reported the incident a few days later.
Under cross-examination, the boyfriend said the woman told him she may have exchanged instant messages with Owens that night but couldn't recall them.
Owens's and the woman's computers have been seized and are being examined. The two remain in school and in the academy's only dorm, Bancroft Hall, a decision that a Navy official said was discussed with the woman but has drawn criticism from some victim advocacy groups.
Sexual assault and harassment have been persistent problems at the 150-year-old campus, which began accepting women in 1976. A series of high-profile scandals beginning in 1989, when a female midshipman was handcuffed to a urinal and taunted, have led to study after study and nearly 250 recommendations for change, including alcohol awareness training. But a Pentagon task force report in August called the school's efforts "sporadic and incomplete."
Recent figures show 45 reports of sexual assault at the school during the four academic years ending in June 2005. Academy officials and some victim advocates say the numbers may be a result of efforts by the school to make it easier for women to report crimes.