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Judge In Stanford Rape Case Under Fire For “Lenient” Sentence

Stanford University - Photo from Pixabay

Judge Aaron Persky has been harshly criticized for giving what many believe to be a light sentence to a former Stanford University student for sexual assault, and has been receiving numerous threats of violence against him and his family, an official said on Tuesday.

Persky, 54 and a California judge, sentenced Brock Allen Turner, 20, to six months in prison for three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.

Since the sentence was handed down Thursday, phone calls threatening Persky have poured into the Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to Gary Goodman, a supervising attorney for the county public defender’s office.

Goodman, who has been staunchly defending Persky, says, “People have been calling the court and leaving messages, and if someone answers, they say, ‘Tell your judge he can go to hell, and I hope his kids get raped and he rots in hell.’ He’s getting threats over this, him and his family, from all over the country. Is that right?”

Judge Persky was a former corporate lawyer and former criminal prosecutor. He was appointed to the Santa Clara County Superior Court by Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. He is running unopposed in this year’s election. Persky is known for his exemplary work as prosecutor in cases involving violent sex crimes and hate crimes. While campaigning for judgeship back in 2002, he wrote a biography on his work for the League of Women Voters of California. He served as a member of the executive committee of the Support Network for Battered Women and the Santa Clara County Network for a Hate-Free Community.

“I focus on the prosecution of sexually violent predators, working to keep the most dangerous sex offenders in custody in mental hospitals,” he wrote in his biography.

Persky graduated from Stanford, was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity and was captain of the men’s lacrosse team, according to The Stanford Daily.

In March, Turner was convicted of attacking an unconscious 23-year-old woman behind a Dumpster on campus in 2015.

The victim, who was not a student but lived in nearby Palo Alto, had attended a fraternity party. Two graduate students riding past the Dumpster on their bicycles saw the attack and intervened to stop it, tackling Turner as he fled.

Carl Frederik Arndt, one of the students, said, “She was unconscious the entire time. The guy ran away, and my friend Peter chased after him.”

The judge handed down a six-month sentence and three years probation to Turner, who was a champion swimmer and Olympic hopeful.

The case began garnering attention on Friday after viral website BuzzFeed published a lengthy, powerful courtroom statement by the victim, who detailed the traumatic events and how it had affected her and her family. The statement also described how the investigation further stigmatized her, arguing that male and class privilege had played a factor in the trial and the lenient sentencing.

To add fuel to the fire, Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and sociologist, tweeted a statement made by Turner’s father complaining how his son’s life had been ruined for “20 minutes of action.”

Persky is also being raked over hot coals for his comments about the defendant, saying that the factors he considered in the sentencing included his belief that Turner, “had less moral culpability” for his actions because he was under the influence of alcohol and that he “had no significant record of prior criminal offenses.”

He also implied that the light jail sentence would be enough of a deterrent to the anxiety the defendant was facing due to public scrutiny. According to reporters, Perksy said, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” He also appeared to accept Turner’s account of the events that the victim consented to the incident, saying, “I take him at his word that subjectively that’s his version of his events…I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.”

Because of this conviction, Turner has to register as a life-long sex offender.

Persky has both critics and defenders. Dauber, a friend of the victim’s family, has joined the public outcry and is part of an organization petitioning to recall the judge from his position. Since he is running unopposed and will automatically be re-elected, the recall campaign is the only way to remove him from office.

Dauber says Persky’s ruling had made female college students feel unsafe and said the judge’s misapplied the law in taking Turner’s age, academic achievement and alcohol consumption into consideration in making the decision.

A petition on Change.org to remove the judge has garnered more than 400,000 signatures as of Tuesday. In order to remove the judge, the recall campaign says it needs the signatures of at least 20% of the votes cast in November in Santa Clara County.

The judge’s decision has sparked demonstrations within Stanford University, with students being encouraged to join a protest movement during the university graduation procession that begins commencement exercises on Sunday.

On the other side of the coin, the Santa Clara County district attorney, Jeff Rosen, whose office tried the Stanford case, issued a statement that, “While I strongly disagree with the sentence that Judge Persky issued in the Brock Turner case, I do not believe he should be removed from his judgeship.”

Molly O’Neal, the Santa Clara public defender, is “alarmed by the hysteria” and said, “The judge is required under California law to consider certain mitigating and aggravating factors,” which includes past criminal records and alcohol consumption. “We need to be very careful we’re not hanging judges out to dry based on one decision, especially because he is considered to be a fair and even-tempered judge.”

Goodman described Persky as an “exceptional jurist” who had followed rules and statutes in formulating the sentence. He said he had worked with the judge for three decades and is firmly against the recall. “You have to judge a case on its merits only. The narrative on social media is ‘We have to judge this case as part of the larger social issue of campus sexual abuse,’ but as a judge, he is not allowed to do that.”

Goodman also rebutted the argument that race, social class or even the fact that they went to the same school had anything to do with the sentence. “People say it’s because he’s a Stanford kid and he’s rich and the judge played lacrosse. No, it’s not done that way. It can’t be done that way. It would have been the exact same result for a person of color.”

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