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'3 Strikes' Inmate Is Accused in Rape at Jail : Crime: Officials are investigating the alleged assault by an Oxnard man who faces life in prison for petty theft.

July 26, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oxnard man facing life in prison for petty theft under the "three-strikes-you're-out" law is accused of raping his cellmate in Ventura County Jail last weekend, jail officials said Monday.

Roosevelt C. McCowan, 52, who was convicted last week of stealing 18 bottles of cologne, has been switched to a different area of the lockup after his cellmate reported being forcibly sodomized, said Sheriff's Lt. Geoff Dean.

"There is an allegation that one inmate was sexually molested by another inmate," Dean said.

The incident, which the victim said occurred sometime after 10 p.m. Saturday, is being investigated by the Major Crimes Unit. Allegations of rape inside the jail are rare, Dean said.

"I can't remember the last time I had one (a reported rape)," Dean said. "And talking to the other people, they can't remember the last time they had one, either."

This is not the first time McCowan has been investigated for forcibly sodomizing a cellmate, according to court records. In 1972, he and two other men stripped an inmate, pinned the man on a bunk and raped him, the records say. No charges were brought in that case.

In the current case, McCowan's alleged victim received medical care from the jail's physician, Dean said.

Detectives will present a report of the incident to the district attorney's office today for review, a spokesman said. If warranted, charges in the case could be filed against McCowan as early as this week, Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin J. McGee said.

"It was promptly reported and we believe we will be able to review it in very short order," McGee said.

McCowan was convicted under the state's new three-strikes law on Thursday for stealing the cologne from an Oxnard Sav-on store.

McCowan's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Douglas W. Daily, could not be reached for comment. After publicity of McCowan's prosecution for stealing cologne surfaced last week, some critics of the three-strikes measure said his case exposed weaknesses in the law because it allowed nonviolent third offenders to face unreasonable sentences.

But Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury insisted that McCowan was indeed a violent felon and posed a danger to society.

"It's unfortunate that he chose to do this to his cellmate," Bradbury said Monday. "But now he will be behind bars for the rest of his life, and his victims will have to continue to be other inmates and not law-abiding citizens."

In an interview with The Times, McCowan criticized prosecutors for charging him under the new law, which mandates a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for felony offenders who have two prior serious or violent felonies.

Since 1964, McCowan has been charged in 26 criminal cases and sentenced to 37 years in state prison on various convictions, ranging from burglary and robbery to assault with the intent to commit murder. He has spent only about five years outside prison walls in the past 30 years, he said.

McCowan maintained that he is not a violent offender and vigorously defended himself for any violent crime in which he has been charged.

He said he stole the cologne, valued at $340, because he is a drug addict.

He also said somewhat grudgingly during the interview that his cellmate was in custody for the same crimes as himself--petty theft--but was only given 130 days behind bars.

"I don't know how many facts Mr. McCowan had about his cellmate," Lt. Dean said.

In general, he said inmates are housed at the county jail based on a classification system that takes into account the charges they face and their criminal history.

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