- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

A military jury last night acquitted a former U.S. Naval Academy’s star quarterback of raping a female midshipman on campus in January.

After deliberating for nearly 10 hours at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday, the panel of five naval officers found Midshipman 1st Class Lamar S. Owens Jr. guilty of conduct unbecoming of an officer for engaging in sexual contact on academy grounds and failing to obey a lawful order.

The panel began deliberating the case at 9:45 a.m. yesterday and worked through lunch before reaching the verdicts at about 7:40 p.m.

Midshipman Owens stood at attention as the verdicts were read and showed no emotion. He remains free on bond.

Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Reid Weingarten said his team is relieved with the verdicts.

“There’s no evidence that Lamar Owens raped this young woman. We are enormously relieved,” Mr. Weingarten told reporters. “He’s a young man with enormous strength, enormous character. He will do great things in the world.”

Mr. Weingarten said he is “very confident” that the other two charges will be dismissed because the prosecution didn’t present any evidence to substantiate them.

“It will virtually be a clean sweep,” he said.

Prosecutors did not comment on the verdicts last night. Neither Midshipman Owens’ accuser nor her family was in the courtroom when the verdicts were read.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. today.

Midshipman Owens, 22, of Savannah, Ga., was accused of raping a 20-year-old female midshipman Jan. 29 in her dorm room at the academy’s Bancroft Hall.

During the deliberations, the jurors asked the judge, Cmdr. John Maksym, several questions, including the definition of legal terms.

At one point yesterday, the jury asked about its ability to alter the wording of the conduct unbecoming of an officer charge.

But Cmdr. Maksym instructed the jury that it could not fundamentally alter the nature of the charge, which leaves the jury to decide whether Midshipman Owens wrongfully entered the woman’s room and engaged in wrongful sexual conduct.

It is against academy regulations to engage in sexual activity on campus.

Cmdr. Maksym said both accusations must be proven for the jury to convict Midshipman Owens of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

“The government alleged two wrongful acts in the specification, not one,” Cmdr. Maksym told the panel.

After the verdict was read last night, Midshipman Owens’ attorneys had asked Cmdr. Maksym to throw out the conduct unbecoming of an officer charge because they said there’s no proof that Midshipman Owens wrongfully entered the woman’s room.

Cmdr. Maksym said he would consider the defense’s request at the hearing today.

During the nearly two-week court-martial, Midshipman Owens’ accuser testified that he entered her room and tried to get into her bed at about 4 a.m. Jan. 29. She said she resisted his advances but then suffered a blackout. She said the next thing she remembered was that she was being raped.

However, Midshipman Owens testified that the sex was consensual and that he stopped when he realized that the woman passed out on the bed. In his testimony, Midshipman Owens repeatedly described the incident as “sex gone bad.”

Several defense witnesses testified that they repeatedly saw Midshipman Owens’ accuser drinking and intoxicated in bars in Annapolis, including several hours before the encounter with Midshipman Owens.

Other defense witnesses described Midshipman Owens as “trustworthy.”

Experts had testified that alcoholism could impair memory, which could have happened in the accuser’s case.

A nurse who examined Midshipman Owens’ accuser several days after the incident said that she found no evidence of rape.

Midshipman Owens was a team captain and starting quarterback for Navy last season, leading the team to record of 8-4 with victories over Army and Air Force, and a win over Colorado State University in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Midshipman Owens was not allowed to graduate or receive a commission in May. He remains a midshipman.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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