Stanford Swimmer Sexual Assault Case- Sentence Controversy

Last Thursday, June 2, 2016, Brock Allen Turner, an All American swimmer at prestigious Stanford University was sentenced to six months in jail followed by three years of probation in the sexual assault of an unnamed young women.

Here are the facts:

On January 18, 2015, shortly after midnight, two Stanford graduate students from Sweden witnessed a clothed man on top of a partially nude woman who appeared to be unconscious. The two witnesses took action. The man and woman were on the ground behind a dumpster near a fraternity house where they had both attended a party. Lars Peter Jonsson shouted at the man asking, “What the f—- are you doing? She’s unconscious.” Turner then tried to flee. Jonasson and his friend detained Turner until authorities arrived.

Turner was arrested and charged with three felonies. Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated woman with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. He entered a plea of not guilty alleging that the assault was an alcohol fueled consensual encounter. The case was made more difficult for prosecutors by the fact that the victim had no memory of the events due to of an alcohol induced blackout. In March, a jury did not buy Turner’s explanation and Turner was found guilty.

Turner appeared again in court to learn what punishment he would receive. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky could have sentenced Turner to up to 14 years in prison for the three convictions. A pre-sentence report from the Santa Clara County probation department recommended a much more lenient outcome, that Turner be given probation with a jail term of not more than a year.

At the sentencing hearing, the 23-year-old unnamed victim read a long, gut wrenching statement to the Judge asking that he send a stern message to Turner and others who might commit such crimes. It outlined what happened to her and the effects it has had on her life. “I am a human who has been irreversibly hurt.” she stated. She also said that Turner’s status as an All American swimmer at Stanford should not be considered as a justification for leniency stating “If I had been sexually assaulted by an un-athletic guy from a community college, what would his sentence be? How fast he swims does not lessen the impact of what happened to me.”

Also submitted to Judge Persky was a letter from the defendant’s father, Dan Turner. In it he talked about the effects and change to his son since the incident. “The verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways” said the senior Mr. Turner. However, he also blamed the incident on alcohol consumption and promiscuity, suggesting that his son could educate others and the danger of binge drinking. Most inexplicably he called the encounter “20 minutes of action” and said that prison time was not appropriate for that kind of offense.

Ultimately, Judge Persky followed the recommendation of the probation officer and declined to grant the prosecutors’ request for a six-year prison term for Turner. Turner will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Judge Persky reasoned “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on (Turner)…I think he will not be a danger to others.”

There has been widespread outrage over the sentence. The Santa Clara County District Attorney criticized the decision to levy only six months in the county jail, with only three months actually being served, but did not call for Persky’s removal, “While I strongly disagree with the sentence…I do not believe (Persky) should be removed from his judgeship.” He also praised the strength of the victim. “She has given voice to the thousands of sexual assault survivors.”

Others have not been as forgiving of Judge Persky. As of this week alone (June 7, 2016) more than 400,000 people had supported an online petition at calling for Persky to be ousted. In a letter to be delivered to the California State, the petition accuses the judge of being lenient due to Mr. Turner’s status as “a white male star athlete at a prestigious university.”

Neither the Attorneys for Turner, nor the unnamed victim have commented since the sentencing.