Short sexual assault sentence of Stanford student strikes public nerve

Haven't been following the case? Here's a quick run down of the Brock Turner rape controversy.

Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group via AP
In this June 2, 2016 photo, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen reacts to what happened in the courtroom outside of the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in Palo Alto, Calif. Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, was sentenced to six months in jail on his conviction on three counts of felony sexual assault on a 22-year-old young woman on the Stanford campus following a party on Jan. 18, 2015. At left is Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci.

Convicted for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2015, Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, was sentenced on Thursday to six months in prison and three years of probation.

The short jail term, called a "slap on the wrist sentence" in a San Jose Mercury News editorial, has prompted outrage and a petition to recall the judge behind that sentence. The maximum possible sentence would have been 14 years in prison; prosecutors had asked for six years, not months.

"The punishment does not fit the crime," Santa Clara, Calif. District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement following the sentencing last week. "The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim's ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. And I will prosecute it as such."

In March, a jury found Brock Turner guilty of three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person, according to the District Attorney's statement.

Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky said that the defendant's youth, clean criminal record, and lifetime enrollment on the sex-offender registry factored into his decision. Family and friends had written to the judge seeking lenience. 

His sister, Caroline Tuner, wrote: "A series of alcohol-fueled decisions that he made within an hour time span will define him for the rest of his life. Goodbye to NCAA championships. Goodbye to the Olympics. Goodbye to becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Goodbye to life as he knew it."

The Los Angeles times reported that a retired federal prosecutor, Margaret M. Quinn, asked the judge to consider the long-term damage inflicted by Turner's conviction: limited job opportunities and the requirement to register as a sex offender. "As I know you are aware, the collateral consequences of a conviction are staggering," Quinn wrote, saying they go beyond his expulsion from Stanford.

Critics have derided the sentence as too lenient and have suggested that the defendant's privileged position, as a white college student at Stanford, played into the decision. 

However, members of the judicial community have since come out in support of Judge Persky and his decision.

"He is an absolutely solid and respected judge," Santa Clara County deputy public defender Gary Goodman told the Associated Press. "Persky made the right decision."

Judge Persky, by law, cannot comment on his decision because Turner has filed an appeal. 

Still, public ire around the sentence was kicked into high gear when the full statement made by the victim in court and a letter written by the father of the convicted man to the judge were made public.

CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield read the victim's statement, nearly all 7,244 words of it, live on the air Monday.

As part of her statement, the victim responded to the then-defendant's statements. According to her statement, the defendant had said "I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life," referring to his plans to "speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that."

"Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine," she said.

The letter written by Dan Turner, father of the convicted Brock Turner, described his son's life as "deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th." He went on to say that jail time "is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

Critics have slammed the father's letter, particularly this comment, as "tone-deaf" and encouraging "rape culture," or, as USA TODAY put it, "This guy's dad just showed us what rape culture looks like."

The Santa Clara District Attorney's statement describes the assault: "After midnight, on January 18, 2015, Turner was seen by two witnesses sexually assaulting the unconscious victim, who was laying on the ground behind a dumpster on Stanford campus. When they called out, Turner ran away. The two tackled him and held him until police officers arrived."

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