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Thursday, December 19, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Her Name's Patricia Bowman

Newsday

TV interview Patricia Bowman's taped interview will appear tonight on ABC's "PrimeTime Live" at 10 on Channel 4. ---------------------------------------------------------------

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Patricia Joyce Bowman, the 30-year-old woman who accused William Kennedy Smith of rape, has shed her anonymity and the blue dot that obscured her televised image during the trial, and will appear tonight on television.

Bowman has decided to come forward - giving up the protection of her identity granted by Florida law and the policies of most major media - in an effort to put the incident behind her, her stepfather said yesterday.

"This is the way to end it all - to publicize who she is," said the stepfather, Michael O'Neil, 69, director and former chairman of General Tire, now known as GenCorp.

"It's too late to hide, I'm telling you. Now's the time to let everybody know and get on with our lives," he said.

Sources close to Bowman said she hoped to dispel notions that she was promiscuous or mentally unstable.

Smith was acquitted of the rape charges last week by a Florida jury. His press liaison said yesterday that he had no plans to give any interviews.

"He's just eager to put this whole experience into perspective and get on with his life, and he's in the process of doing that," Barbara Gamarekian said.

Roy Black, Smith's defense attorney, said earlier this week that by giving a televised interview Bowman would make her statements in court appear "phony."

"In the courtroom, she said she didn't want to go through with this any more," Black said in an interview Monday. ". . . Now she's going to go on national television? It seems a little strange to me."

ABC has not disclosed much about what Bowman said during the interview, taped by Diane Sawyer for airing tonight on "PrimeTime Live."

According to Debbie Shinick, ABC's associate director of news ratings, the network expects to get between 25 and 27 percent of the viewing audience tonight, compared with the average 17 percent the show usually musters.

A blue dot or multicolored mosaic hid Bowman from millions of TV viewers when she testified at Smith's trial. Her name was electronically edited out of the testimony, except for a few slips.

The Seattle Times and most of the nation's media have not previously identified Bowman. With her decision to come forward, The Times will now use both her name and image.

The issue of whether to identify her in the case prompted spirited debates both among and within news organizations nationwide.

Bowman's attorney, David Roth, did not return calls for comment. But a story in yesterday's Palm Beach Post quoted him as saying Bowman had not set any conditions for the interview and was not being paid. He also was quoted as saying Bowman had turned down offers as high as $500,000 for interviews.

The interview with Sawyer took place in Roth's West Palm Beach home and lasted several hours, the Palm Beach Post quoted Roth as saying.

Rena Terracuso, a spokeswoman for "PrimeTime Live," would only say that Bowman "will discuss the events of the past months and how it's affected her life."

"PrimeTime Live" officials said there was a great deal of "give and take" in the interview and that Sawyer challenges some aspects of Bowman's story.

In his interview yesterday, O'Neil spoke about his stepdaughter and her efforts to get on with her life. He also gave more details of her life than were available during the trial.

Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1961, Bowman was an only child. She attended the private Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and Palm Beach Community College.

Bowman, who is known as Patty, and her 2-year-old daughter live in a Jupiter, Fla., house O'Neil bought for her in 1989 for $161,800. The O'Neils also have a home in Jupiter, about 20 minutes away from Bowman's.

She moved to Florida in 1981 after her mother married O'Neil, who retired in 1986 as the chairman of GenCorp, a multimillion-dollar conglomerate that owns General Tire. She has worked for a Palm Beach newspaper, a Florida law firm, a Methodist church and Walt Disney World.

John Butler, the father of Bowman's child, said yesterday that the TV appearance was "somewhat of a surprise, but it's her decision."

Bowman's decision to come forward drew mixed reactions from observers not directly tied to the case. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has argued for rape accusers' names to be revealed as a matter of course, criticized it as "a ploy."

"Now that the jury has disbelieved her, she realizes it was hard to drum up sympathy in a faceless manner," Dershowitz said. Noting that Bowman had for months sought to remain anonymous, he said: "Now she's going to have the tremendous advantage of showing her face without having to be cross-examined. . . . She wants to have her cake and eat it, too."

But Mary Coombs, a law professor and specialist in women's issues at University of Miami law school, called Bowman's decision "wonderful."

"As a matter of policy, it's much better if newspapers don't print people's names (if they are alleged rape victims), because if that's the cost of coming forward, they simply will not complain," Coombs said. "But a woman standing up and volunteering information and identifying herself might be trying to turn an awful experience into a social good."

-- Information from Knight-Ridder Newspapers is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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