A Lenient Plea Deal for a Baylor Fraternity President Accused of Rape Sparks Outrage

The sentencing of former Baylor fraternity president Jacob Walter Anderson by Judge Ralph Strother is prompting outraged comparisons to Brock Turner.

“I am devastated by your decision to let my rapist Jacob Walter Anderson go free without any punishment.” Those are the words of the unnamed victim in the latest Baylor University rape case, with has just closed with Anderson, a former Baylor University fraternity president accused of sexual assault, receiving a lenient plea deal that will result in zero jail time. According to the victim, Anderson raped her while she was choked and gagged at a 2016 party, after which she woke up alone, outside, in her own vomit.

The details of the case feel disturbingly familiar by now, and not just because it is one in several cases of sexual violence in a years-long scandal at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which reportedly fostered a culture in which victims hid traumatic experiences at the hands of Baylor students, many of them athletes, for fear of reprisal and because university officials did not take them seriously.

That Judge Ralph Strother was a Baylor alumni presiding over the fate of Anderson (a president of Baylor’s Phi Delta Theta chapter at the time of the alleged assault), and approved the district attorney’s plea against the wishes of the victim, recalls the circumstances surrounding the sentencing of accused rapist Brock Turner in 2016. Turner, a Stanford University swimmer, was given only six months of jail time for a violent sexual assault of an unconscious woman outside a university party, a case adjudicated by Aaron Persky, a Stanford alumnus, who had said that Turner would “not be a danger to others” and expressed concern that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact” on him. Persky has since been removed from office by a recall vote.

Anderson, now 23, was arrested in March of 2016; earlier this year, when it was revealed that the McLennan County district attorney’s office would dismiss the four counts of sexual assault he had been charged with in exchange for a lesser charge of unlawful restraint, the leniency with which Anderson was treated became a point of outrage for the victim and her family. The victim had asked that the judge reject the terms in favor of a trial at which she could testify.

Instead, Strother approved the deal, which will require that Anderson serve three years of federal probation, pay a $400 fine and go to counseling. The probation he received is also a specific type called deferred adjudication, which means that the charge could eventually be dismissed if he does not violate the terms of his probation. He will not have to register as a sex offender.

In a powerful victim’s impact statement read after the hearing, the victim said that Anderson “stole my body, virginity and power over my body and you let him keep it all for eternity.” She then addressed him directly: “It must be horrible to be you. To know what you did to me. To know you are a rapist. To know that you almost killed me. To know that you ruined my life, stole my virginity and stole many other things from me.”

The victim also had strong words for the county officials who prosecuted her case, including assistant district attorney on the case, Hilary LaBorde, and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, saying that they would have to “live with the knowledge” that the McLennan County justice system is severely broken. “If I had the courage to come back to Waco and face my rapist and testify, you could at least have had enough respect for me to show up today,” she said. “You both will have to live with this decision to let a rapist run free in society without any warning to future victims.”

In a statement to the Baylor student newspaper, Strother said that he had “as good of information as possible from all perspectives of the matter. Being human, I can make wrong decisions. However, I cannot be uncertain about the decisions that I make.” Critics, however, are less certain of Strother’s ability to be unbiased when it comes to Baylor students accused of sexual assault, pointing to his record of accepting lenient sentences. According to the Associated Press, in 2017 Strother sentenced a man to deferred probation after he pleaded guilty in the 2013 rape of a former Baylor student, who had told police at the time of the incident that the victim had been drunk. Earlier this year, he sentenced a man to felony probation for the sexual assault of a former Baylor student; the man was allowed to serve his 30 days of jail time on weekends.

Part of the campaign to recall Judge Persky was to scrutinize his record of light sentencing for alleged sexual assaulters in light of his handling of the Brock Turner case; his critics were ultimately successful in their bid to have Persky removed. As in the case of Anderson (despite awareness surrounding the #MeToo movement, which the Turner case predated), the victim was left to speak out alone against a system she felt betrayed by. Judge Strother is up for reelection in 2020.

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