Update: Julia Kirby, one of Vallejo's victims, spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune about Judge Low's comments, saying, "If [Low] really, really cared about me or about the fact that this person was a criminal, he wouldn't have that kind of sympathy. It was shocking to me for that reason."
This story was originally published on April 18, 2017.
Former Mormon bishop Keith Robert Vallejo was sentenced to up to life in prison after a Utah jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape. Despite all of this, Judge Thomas Low called the convicted rapist an "extraordinarily good man" while deciding his fate last week.
Judge Low's full comment was, "The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man... But great men sometimes do bad things."
Vallejo has maintained his innocence, and more than 5o letters were submitted to the court in defense of his character. The defendant's brother also compared Vallejo to Jesus in his testimony, claiming they had both been wrongfully convicted. The prosecutor on the case, Ryan McBride, told the Associated Press the positive comments about Vallejo may have influenced Low's glowing review of him.
"He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable," one of Vallejo's victims told the Associated Press.
This isn't the first time a judge has made comments favoring a defendant over the alleged victim in a rape trial. Canadian Judge Robin Camp resigned last month after a disciplinary council called for him to be ousted following a rape trial during which Camp asked the woman why she couldn't keep her knees together.
In another case, Idaho Judge Randy J. Stoker blamed a 14-year-old girl's rape on social media, rather than on her rapist. Stoker allowed the convicted rapist to be released from jail on the condition that he not have sex outside of marriage while on probation, with no real way to enforce that directive.
Judges who give absurdly light sentences in sexual assault cases, blame victims, and call rapists "extraordinarily good" diminish the severity of rape. Their job is to hold convicted criminals responsible for their actions, and failing to do so perpetuates rape culture and sends the message to others that sexual assault isn't that big of a deal.
Utah civil rights group Restore Our Humanity plans to file an official complaint against Judge Low. "He did something that we see happening over and over from [positions] in authority dealing with these kind of cases: making the perpetrator into the victim, showing sympathy and praise for the perpetrator, and trying to make him into the victim," director Mark Lawrence told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It's completely inappropriate."
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