A military judge today will consider the concerns of a Naval Academy officer who believes fellow members of the jury that convicted a former Navy football player of sexual assault did not follow instructions in their deliberations, a development that could lead to a new trial, several sources familiar with the case said.
Marine Col. Stephen Day, the military judge who heard the trial, scheduled today's hearing at the Washington Navy Yard to weigh the seriousness of the juror's concerns.
The three sources said the juror was one of two Marines on the panel but could not be more specific.
William Ferris, who represents Kenny Ray Morrison, a former backup linebacker who is serving a two-year prison sentence in Charleston, S.C., declined to discuss the concerns of the juror, citing a gag order from the military judge in the case.
Prosecutors and Naval Academy officials declined to discuss the matter, noting an open case.
Calls to Morrison's mother, Rhenda White-Brunner, were not returned.
"We're eager in anticipation," said Erik Bouline, a Millersville resident who hosted Morrison in his home for four years as part of the Naval Academy's sponsor program. "We haven't been told what it's about specifically, but that there is a possibility that it could end up in Kenny Ray's favor."
Morrison, 24, was found guilty last month of indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer for having sex with a female midshipman without her consent after a party in a Washington hotel in February 2006.
His case has been largely overshadowed by that of Lamar S. Owens Jr., the former Navy quarterback who was expelled from the Annapolis military college last month; he was acquitted of rape in July but convicted on two related felonies for having sex with a female classmate in the school dormitory.
Against the advice of his attorneys, Owens attended the last day of Morrison's court-martial last month, sat next to Morrison's parents and read to Morrison from the Bible during a break.
In the first days of Morrison's trial, one juror said he believed Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, wanted a guilty verdict in the case.
"I think he's already made up his mind," said Marine Maj. Robb Mansfield, an electrical engineering instructor. Mansfield also told attorneys he would not be influenced by that perception, and he was added to the panel.
In military courts, the commanding officer of the accused - in this case, Rempt - brings charges, convenes courts-martial and picks the jury pool.
Ferris, Morrison's civilian defense lawyer, ardently criticized the jury selection process, noting that 28 of the 30 officers who were winnowed down to a group of seven after three days of screening were senior-level military officers.
Ferris said the panel did not reflect the proportions in the 400-member officer corps at the academy, which is about half junior-level and half senior-level.
"It has the appearance of being deliberate, and if there is a selection designed not to be a representative sample, that's illegal," he said at the trial, hinting that it could be grounds for an appeal.
Charlotte Cluverius, a former law instructor at the academy who handles military cases at a private Washington law firm, said that if the judge decides the jury strayed from his orders, he can either find them to have done so in a way that was "harmless to the original result," or in a "prejudicial manner."
If deemed prejudicial, the case would be overturned, and it would be up to Rempt whether to order a new court-martial, something Cluverius said would be likely given the high profile of this case.
"I think that juries in the civilian world and military world frequently have difficulty following the judge's orders, either because of intentional bias or because they don't have any experience doing it," she said. "But I've never seen anybody who was in the room come forward and say it happened."