Opening Argument April 2007

'Rape' and the Navy's P.C. Police

A bogus rape charge shouldn't derail the Navy career of 23-year-old Lamar Owens Jr., the former quarterback of the Naval Academy's football team.

This despite the fact that the military jury, after a 10-day trial, not only acquitted Owens of rape but also determined after careful deliberation that there should be "no punishment" for his two minor convictions. And despite the fact that but for the bogus rape charge there would have been no general court-martial at all—only administrative discipline under an often-violated regulation prohibiting sex in Bancroft Hall. And despite football coach Paul Johnson's characterization of Owens as the "outstanding leader" of his team, one who "cares about people that are around him" and has "a natural ability that draws people."

To brand this young man a felon or deny him his commission, on the facts established at the court-martial, would be an outrage. If Navy Secretary Winter upholds Rempt's recommendation, he, like Rempt, is unfit for his job.

Here is what happened. According to Owens's well-corroborated testimony during his court-martial, he found an instant message on his computer from the accuser upon returning to his room after 3 a.m. on January 29, 2006. Owens responded, and after more IM's back and forth the 20-year-old junior invited him to her room in Bancroft Hall. He went. She climbed into her upper bunk and motioned him to follow. He did. They had sex until he noticed that she was no longer responding. Thinking this "bizarre," he withdrew and left the room.

The accuser, whose name has not been published, told a somewhat different story: After returning to her room very drunk from an Annapolis bar, she went to sleep and awoke to find Owens standing alongside her bunk trying to kiss her. She tried "scrunching" her lips to ward off the kisses and "scooched my body up to the headboard so he would stop," she said. But Owens managed to have sex with her for several minutes and then left.

The military judge, Cmdr. John Maksym, said that her credibility had been "eviscerated" on cross-examination by Owens's defense lawyer.

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Stuart Taylor Jr., a contributing editor for National Journal, is teaching a course on the news media and the law at Stanford Law School.

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