- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

A former U.S. Naval Academy star quarterback acquitted of raping a female midshipman but convicted of two lesser charges should not be punished, a military jury recommended yesterday.

Midshipman 1st Class Lamar S. Owens Jr., 22, of Savannah, Ga., should not receive jail time, be dishonorably discharged or pay substantial financial penalties, the five-member jury recommended. Midshipman Owens on Thursday was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and disobeying a lawful order.

After a sentencing hearing yesterday at the Washington Navy Yard, Midshipman Owens, who hardly showed any emotion during the court-martial, was seen praying in his chair with his elbows on his knees and his hands grasped together on the defense table.

When the jury’s decision was read, Midshipman Owens’ mother burst into tears. His father leaned over a dividing wall and hugged him.

Midshipman Owen’s defense attorney Reid Weingarten praised the jury’s decision and derided the government’s “false” accusation that his client was guilty of rape.

“Justice was done today,” he told reporters after the hearing. “I had tears in my eyes because this young man needed and received vindication today.”

Midshipman Owens and his family declined to comment.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt must now decide whether to punish Midshipman Owens for violating Academy rules, including prohibitions against having sex on campus and fraternizing with a member of his company, and violating a written order that he stay away from the vicinity of his accuser.

A senior, Midshipman Owens expected to enter the Navy as an ensign assigned to surface warfare duties, but he was not allowed to graduate with his classmates in May. He has the credits to qualify for an economics degree.

In a written statement yesterday, the Academy said it respected the court’s decision but described Midshipman Owens’ behavior as “inappropriate and inconsistent with the character expected” of future officers.

“The allegations and referral to court-martial are sad events — the alleged victim, the accused, their families and friends, and the Brigade are all affected by these actions,” Adm. Rempt said. “Preventing and deterring sexual harassment, misconduct and assault is a critically important issue that the Academy continually emphasizes.”

On the two charges, Midshipman Owens could have faced a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, 60 days of restricted oversight, an official reprimand and dismissal from the military. Dismissal would have required him to pay back more than $136,000 in educational costs.

The prosecuting attorneys, Cmdr. David Wilson and Lt. Kathleen Helmann, asked the jury to issue a reprimand and to dismiss Midshipman Owens from the military. The prosecuting attorneys declined to comment.

During the sentencing phase, the prosecution portrayed Midshipman Owens as a military leader and a sports star whose status as a role model made his sexual misconduct particularly irresponsible.

Last season, Midshipman Owens led Navy’s football team to an 8-4 record that included victories over military academy rivals Air Force and Army and a win in the Poinsettia Bowl over Colorado State University. He was the team’s most valuable player.

“He was a leader. He was someone to look up to and emulate,” Lt. Helmann argued. “Leaders must lead by example. He has failed to demonstrate what a leader should and should not be.”

Midshipman Owens testified yesterday that this ordeal would make him stronger. “I want to use the lesson and the tough times I’ve been through,” he said. “And I think that will greatly help me in the fleet.”

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.

Midshipman Owens testified that the sex was consensual and that he stopped when he realized that the woman passed out on the bed.

Yesterday, Midshipman Owens testified that he understood he had to live with the consequences of his actions.

“I’ve learned that you always have to be on your guard,” he said. “Once you make that decision, you have to live with the decision. There’s no taking it back once the action is there.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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