Navy Quarterback Cleared of Raping Midshipman
Friday, July 21, 2006
A former U.S. Naval Academy quarterback was acquitted last night of raping a female midshipman but was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for having sex with the woman in her dorm room and disobeying an order to stay clear of her.
The verdict by a jury of five naval officers means that Midshipman Lamar S. Owens Jr., 22, could face up to two years in a military prison as well as dismissal from the Navy. He avoids the life sentence that could have come with a rape conviction.
The high-profile court-martial, involving a star football player who led Navy to victory in the Poinsettia Bowl, comes as the Annapolis academy and other military schools face increased pressure to crack down on sexual assaults. Owens's acquittal on the rape charge comes less than a month after a similar verdict for a Coast Guard Academy cadet accused of rape.
Owens's attorneys immediately objected to the jury's decision, saying that there was no credible evidence to support conviction on any of the charges and that they would ask the judge, Cmdr. John A. Maksym, to overturn the verdict today.
Owens's attorney, Reid H. Weingarten, said in a news conference that he was relieved the rape charge did not stand and was "very confident the conduct unbecoming will go." If the judge affirms the verdict, the jury will begin considering the sentence immediately.
In court testimony, the woman said Owens had entered her room while she was barely conscious after a night of heavy drinking and began forcing her to have sex, stopping only after she resisted. Owens contended that he had been invited to the room during an instant message conversation and began having consensual sex with her; he found that she had suddenly become unresponsive, after which he stopped and left.
Owens's defense team argued that the prosecution's case was "riddled with reasonable doubt," given that the woman acknowledged having several gaps in her memory of the incident and that several witnesses had testified that they had seen her drinking heavily. Prosecutors responded that she had no reason to lie in her testimony and that Owens had apologized repeatedly during a telephone conversation with the woman that was secretly taped by investigators.
The nine-day trial made public other problems the academy usually keeps private. The testimony of several witnesses, some of them granted immunity, touched on sex, binge drinking, cheating and lying -- taboos at a school that tries to instill in its students the ideals of honor, courage and commitment.
Owens's case is one of the few at Annapolis that has reached court-martial. Most sexual assault allegations are quietly resolved by the school's internal disciplinary system. Of 56 midshipmen accused of the crime since 1998, only two have been convicted.
The jury of four men and a woman delivered the decision after nearly 10 hours of deliberation in a small chamber next to the wood-paneled courtroom in the Washington Navy Yard. Under military procedure, a two-thirds majority is required to convict on each charge. The jury's votes were not revealed, and the judge ordered the jurors not to discuss the case.
Owens stood at attention as the jury's president, a lieutenant commander, read the verdict.
Owens's family members, seated behind him, grimaced and then stared stonily ahead. Weingarten's 20-year-old son, who has watched much of the trial, put his head in his hands.