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Jury Hears Tape of Navy Quarterback Apologizing to Accuser

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 15, 2006; B04

The judge presiding over the court-martial of a former U.S. Naval Academy quarterback allowed the jury yesterday to hear a secretly taped phone call in which the player apologized to a female midshipman he is accused of raping. The judge also rejected motions by the defense team to dismiss charges.

In addition, Navy Cmdr. John A. Maksym, the judge in the case, told prosecutors that Lamar S. Owens Jr.'s defense attorney had "eviscerated" the credibility of the accuser in the case, taking apart her testimony "like a Swiss watch" during cross-examination. The jury was not present as he spoke.

"A reasonable jury could find substantial reasonable doubt as to Midshipman Owens's guilt," Maksym said.

The rape charge stems from a Jan. 29 incident in which Owens, the co-captain of Navy's football team, is accused of entering the female midshipman's room and assaulting her while she was drunk. He was charged Feb. 22 with rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and violating a protective order.

When she testified Tuesday, the accuser admitted that there were large gaps in her memory of the night because she was drunk. A toxicologist who testified for the defense yesterday estimated that the woman had a blood alcohol level of 0.2 percent; at 0.08 percent a person is legally considered intoxicated. The Washington Post does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Despite his doubts about the government's case, Maksym ruled that the prosecution had met the requirements to allow the trial to be decided by the jury of five naval officers assembled at the Washington Navy Yard.

Maksym also rejected a defense motion to prevent the taped telephone conversation from being played before the jury.

The tape, from a Feb. 8 phone conversation between Owens and the accuser, had been played at a preliminary hearing in March. The defense had argued that the conversation was scripted by the female midshipman, acting on heavy-handed guidance from investigators.

Maksym ruled that the wiretap had been legal and that the tape would be admissible at the trial.

On the tape, Owens, apparently crying, apologized repeatedly. An investigator sitting nearby as the woman was on the phone pressed her to ask Owens whether he used a condom.

"No," he responded. "I didn't do it long."

"How long?"

"Not long. . . . You weren't awake, so I stopped."

Later on the tape, Owens said: "I apologize. I'm so sorry. When I woke up the next day and I called you, I really wanted to kill myself, and I still feel that way."

Alluding to Owens's religious beliefs, the woman said: "I don't know if I'm the one you should be trying to ask forgiveness right now."

In the courtroom, Owens was expressionless as the tape played. The jury listened to the conversation with stony faces, the one female juror hanging her head. Soon after the tape ended, the prosecution rested its case.

The defense brought forth two witnesses: the toxicologist and Paul Johnson, the Naval Academy's football coach.

"Everything I've seen out of Lamar is above reproach," Johnson said.

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