Owens is expelled from academy

The Baltimore Sun

Lamar S. Owens Jr., the former Navy quarterback who was convicted of two felonies after having sex with a female classmate in the Naval Academy dormitory, will be expelled with no degree and will owe the school more than $90,000, Navy officials said yesterday.

The Navy secretary, Donald C. Winter, deemed his conduct "unsatisfactory" and ordered him discharged, though Owens, 23, was acquitted in July of rape and supporters had launched a campaign in his behalf of letter-writing, organizing on the Internet and lobbying in Annapolis and Washington.

While Owens' education was valued at about $136,000, Winter reduced his debt by a third to $90,797.75 "in recognition of his noteworthy professional conduct during the time he served as a midshipman following his anticipated graduation date," the Navy said in a written statement.

The academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, had recommended that the Savannah, Ga., native repay nothing.

Reached last night, Owens' father said his son notified him of Winter's decision about 5 p.m. Lamar Owens Sr. said he expected a decision this week because a second former Navy football player, Kenny Ray Morrison, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in a Navy brig for forcing himself on a female midshipman.

"That's how they operate," the senior Owens said. "Nobody wants to do the right thing. They just passed it along. I thought someone would really take a look at this and see how unfair, how unjust this was."

Reid Weingarten, Owens' civilian attorney, declined to comment. Lamar Owens Sr. said he isn't sure what the next step will be but hopes that "somebody will step up and do the right thing."

Owens' defense team has several options: It can appeal to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, a final authority that can waive the debt, seek congressional intervention or sue the government for Owens' degree, a tack that has succeeded for other students expelled from service academies.

In a statement released last night, an academy spokesman said the school was "proceeding to comply" with the Navy's decision.

"We are not going to reiterate specific details of this case, nor are we going to compromise the privacy of those involved," said the spokesman, Cmdr. Ed Austin.

Owens, voted the team's most valuable player after a third straight bowl-winning season, had spent the night of Jan. 28, 2006, drinking in Baltimore with teammates while his accuser drank to excess with friends in an Annapolis bar. They ended up in her bed; she saying she was raped and he that it was consensual sex.

From the beginning, Owens' supporters have said Rempt was out to make an example of him, starting with an e-mail sent by his chief of staff, Capt. Helen Dunn, to all academy personnel and Owens' 4,300 peers announcing that he had been charged with rape.

Rempt also brought charges last year against Morrison and a Navy oceanography instructor who was accused of making crude remarks to a female midshipman. The public scrutiny from those cases, coming just three years after a rape scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that rocked the military, led Rempt to take an aggressive stance to reform the 162-year-old institution in Annapolis.

Citing the connection between alcohol and sexual assault, he instituted a zero-tolerance alcohol policy that ordered midshipmen not to get drunk. Rempt gave specific guidelines for how much they could consume and threatened expulsion for those who didn't comply. Last month, school officials unveiled a comprehensive sexual harassment and assault education program that would be added to the curriculum.

Those efforts were widely praised, as was his initial decision to bring charges against Owens, as it was seen as a sign that even a star football player would not receive special treatment.

The first hint of evidence in Owens' case - a taped conversation between him and his accuser in which he uttered numerous emotional apologies - bolstered the allegations. Owens offered to resign, according to sources familiar with the case, but the academy pressed forward with the charges.

Still, many began to question the allegations after the accuser testified in a preliminary hearing that it was "possible" she had consented. The woman, a junior at the time, said she couldn't remember key portions of the evening. The Sun does not identify women who allege sexual assault.

Powerful alumni helped Owens procure Weingarten, one of the top defense lawyers in the country, just before his court-martial began in July at the Washington Navy Yard. His defense team contrasted his relatively clean record with the behavior of the accuser and other immunized prosecution witnesses - what the lawyers dubbed "serial violations" of academy regulations such as binge drinking, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse.

After acquitting Owens of rape at the conclusion of the two-week trial, a military jury convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer and disobeying a lawful order, recommending a sentence of no punishment. In military law, any conviction at a general court-martial amounts to a felony.

While Owens waited seven months for a decision on his fate, he was put on administrative duty at the Washington Navy Yard, sometimes counting open parking spaces, for $800 a month. The academy made numerous offers asking for Owens' resignation, but he refused, according to sources familiar with the case.

In February, Rempt recommended he be expelled for "unsatisfactory conduct," pointing to the two convictions, the alleged existence of pornography on Owens' computer, demerits accumulated at the academy and a poor "military aptitude" score during his final semester, after rape charges had been brought against him.

Friends created a group, "Free Lamar Owens," on the social networking site Facebook.com to solicit positive testimonials about Owens, netting nearly 800 members. Several individuals from lobbying giant Cassidy and Associates offered their free assistance, escorting Owens and his father last week to Capitol Hill, where they took their case to lawmakers in the Georgia and Maryland delegations.

His mother, Kimberly Owens, who went to church after hearing of the Navy's decision yesterday, has said she hopes the leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will soon get involved.

"Justice was not served in this case. Rather, Rempt's political agenda," said Pete Optekar, a former football player during Navy's glory days of the 1960s who led the effort among alumni to secure a degree and commission for Owens.

"I think both the Navy and Admiral Rempt should be taken to civil court," he said, drawing a parallel to this week's dismissal of rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players. "Hopefully, the results will ultimately be the same. As I saw those relieved parents of those Duke lacrosse players, I hope Lamar's parents are there one day themselves."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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