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.

She never claimed that Owens had threatened her or used force. Owens had propped the door to the lighted corridor open with a trash can the whole time to comply with a regulation banning closed-door, male-female visits. A roommate was sleeping some 10 feet away. The accuser admitted that she "did nothing to let her [the roommate] know that I needed assistance." After Owens left, the accuser talked briefly with her roommate and the accuser's boyfriend, who had visited with her earlier that evening, and the three went back to sleep. Owens called her the next morning to ask whether she was OK. There was no official report of the event for more than a week.

The prosecution's best—but far from good—evidence was a secretly taped phone call with the accuser in which Owens sounded apologetic about his conduct. At his trial, he persuasively explained that he had felt contrite about a sexual encounter gone bad with a woman whom he had not then known to be seriously impaired by alcohol.

Not only did Adm. Rempt convene a general court-martial, the most serious form of military trial, but he and his staff also sent a series of prejudicial pretrial e-mails to the Naval Academy community, from which all members of the court were to be drawn. Several referred to the woman as the "victim" or "sexual assault victim," rather than as the "alleged victim" or the "accuser."

The military judge later observed that "some of these e-mails are rather damnable; they insinuate or suggest guilt," creating "the appearance of unlawful command influence" over the members of the court.

While Owens still faces grave consequences for his minor convictions, his accuser is on her way to graduating and being commissioned. This despite the military jury's implicit finding that she was as guilty as Owens of having sex in Bancroft Hall. Not to mention her serial, admitted underage binge drinking and other violations of Naval Academy rules.

The accuser will go unpunished because Rempt granted her broad testimonial immunity. From behind this shield, she admitted at the trial that she had left Bancroft Hall "about four times" after having signed a muster sheet that she was there, and that hours before the incident with Owens she had consumed "three rum and Diet cokes, two shots of tequila, one shot of Southern Comfort, and a Kamikaze."

In addition, she had occasionally blacked out in a party house in Annapolis that she rented with male and female friends. Sperm—not from Lamar Owens—was found on her comforter in Bancroft Hall. It "could have been the sperm from some guy I was with that was on that blanket," she later said. She was known to have been sexually aggressive with multiple men. Some "victim."

The assessment of all this offered by Reid Weingarten, Lamar Owens's defense lawyer, seems more than fair: "This is a case of political correctness gone totally awry. The academy's otherwise laudable effort to protect its women broke down when their charges proved to be demonstrably and palpably untrue and their target proved to be a young man of uncommon integrity, strength, and character. They tried to make Lamar a poster child, but they picked the wrong case and the wrong kid."

So when will they stop hounding him for a two-minute mistake less serious than many a blunder committed by many a successful officer?

Presented by

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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