Former Baylor fraternity president Jacob Anderson received three years probation, a $400 fine and mandatory counseling.
Nearly a week after a plea agreement allowed a former Baylor fraternity president accused of rape to walk away without any jail time, the furor over the deal might be intensifying.
Two petitions linked to the case continue to gain momentum, with some of the signatories expressing dismay at the judge who presided over the case and the prosecutor who accepted the plea.
Under terms of the deal, Jacob Anderson was sentenced Monday to deferred probation, fined $400 and ordered to seek counseling after pleading no contest to a charge of unlawful restraint. A grand jury had indicted Anderson on four counts of sexual assault after he was accused of the 2016 rape of a fellow Baylor student at a fraternity party.
By Sunday night, a petition to have the plea thrown out had garnered more than 123,000 signatures, closing in on its goal of 130,000.
A separate petition calling for Judge Ralph Strother of McLennan County, Texas, to resign or be removed had been signed by more than 49,000 people – its goal is 100,000 – with all but 5,322 from out of state, a reflection of the national attention the light sentence has drawn.
The case has evoked comparisons with the rape accusation against Brock Turner, the former Stanford swimmer who, in June 2016, was found guilty of sexual assault of an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party.
Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County judge who sentenced Turner to six months in jail – Turner served just three – came under blistering criticism and, in June, became the first California judge in 87 years to be recalled from the bench.
The process for removing a judge in Texas does not include a public-recall option, as it does in California. But legal observers say enough political pressure could make it difficult for Strother, 75, to remain on the bench, or win re-election when his four-year term is up in 2020.
“We saw what happened in the Brock Turner case, and that was pretty shocking,’’ said Lisa Houlé, a Los Angeles prosecutor for 15 years and now a private defense lawyer. “So, do I think it could happen again? Anything is possible, and people seem very upset over what has occurred with this case. Yeah, it may happen.’’
McLennan County prosecutor Hilary LaBorde has also come under fire, not only for agreeing to the Anderson plea but for failing to communicate with the victim and her family and for no-showing at Monday’s hearing.
“I think in the world of politics and social media, it may be a blow that is hard for this prosecutor or these prosecutors to recover from,’’ said Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and a former public defender.
In pleading with Strother not to accept the deal and let her go to trial, and afterward expressing her devastation over his decision, the accuser provided graphic details of the alleged rape and told the court it had forced her into a life of anxiety, medication and visits to therapists.
“Everyone knows Jacob Anderson violently raped me repeatedly and almost killed me. The evidence is overwhelming,’’ she said. “Now, I not only have to live with his rape and the repercussions of the rape, I have to live with the knowledge that the McLennan County justice system is severely broken.’’
LaBorde cited “conflicting evidence and statements’’ in arguing the case was difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and also told the victim in an email that juries were not inclined to side with accusers unless the defendant had a previous history of such assaults.
In a statement following the plea, LaBorde also made a point legal experts have noted when she said, “I understand why people are upset. However, all of the facts must be considered and there are many facts that the public does not have.’’
For his part, Strother said many of the comments addressed to him or on social media, “while well-intended, I think fall into three categories: not fully informed, misinformed or totally uninformed.”
In the midst of the outcry, the Baylor connections by some of the principals in the case are coming into scrutiny. Strother, LaBorde and McLennan County Criminal District Attorney Abel Reyna all graduated from the Baptist university in Waco.
Strother, who holds three degrees from the school, has a recent history of issuing light sentences in cases of men accused of raping female Baylor students, according to The Associated Press.
Earlier this year, Strother sentenced a man convicted of sexually assaulting a Baylor student to felony probation and 30 days in jail, which he was allowed to serve on weekends. In 2017, a man who pleaded guilty to the 2013 rape of a Baylor student was sentenced by Strother to deferred probation.
The rape alleged against Anderson took place against the backdrop of a sexual assault scandal surrounding the Baylor football team that resulted in the dismissal of head coach Art Briles and the demotion and subsequent resignation of university president Ken Starr.
To the outside public, at least, the latest case only adds to the perception that victims of sexual assault at Baylor don’t get a fair shake, further fueling outrage.
“There’s so much we don’t know,’’ Bazelon said. “We just know what we can see, and what we can see looks bad.’’
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/12/16/baylor-rape-case-jacob-anderson-plea-deal-outrage/2333131002/