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Were Stanford swimmer's credentials a factor in light sentencing?
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Were Stanford swimmer's credentials a factor in light sentencing?
Thursday June 9th, 2016

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Last week, former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious, intoxicated woman in January 2015. The case has gained national attention, particularly after Turner’s light sentencing. 

The trial and its aftermath have also highlighted, once again, the widespread existence of sexual violence on college campuses across the country.

As public scrutiny of the case continues to grow, catch up on what happened on the night of the assault, how legal proceedings unfolded and the case’s aftermath.

​The assault

On a Saturday in January 2015, two Swedish graduate students were biking by the Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Stanford when they saw a man—Turner, a 19-year-old Stanford freshman—raping a 22-year-old, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. The unnamed victim, who was a recent college graduate, had been visiting her sister, an undergraduate student at Stanford, on the night of the assault.

The woman had originally intended to spend that night at home, but changed her mind and attended the fraternity party with her sister. She later recounted, “I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.” 

Before making his way to the woman he raped, Turner had previously made a pass at her sister, who “pushed him away.” Though Turner admitted that he had been actively looking for someone to “hook up with,” he claimed he did not remember how he and the victim ended up behind the dumpster.

Turner attempted to run away once he spotted the bikers, but they chased him down and tackled him. The bikers, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, called the police, who arrived and arrested Turner, who was also intoxicated but reportedly remembered everything, while the woman remained unresponsive at the scene. She was then taken to the hospital, where she eventually regained consciousness.

“I was asked to sign papers that said ‘Rape Victim’ and I thought something has really happened,” she stated in court. “My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. To calm me down, they said it’s just the flora and fauna, flora and fauna. I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.”

• ELLIS: A timeline of the Baylor sexual assault scandal

A police report, obtained by SFGate.com, offered details on what happened that night. 

“He stated that he was drunk but was able to remember everything,” the police report says of Turner. “His head was a little fuzzy due to the effects of the alcohol, but he consciously decided to engage in the sexual activity with victim. He was having a good time with victim and stated that she also seemed to enjoy the activity.”

But the woman told police that after consuming several drinks, she couldn’t recall anything after talking to a few attendees at the party. 

How the case unfolded

On Jan. 27, 2015, Turner was arrested and charged with five counts of felony sexual assault. He withdrew from Stanford after he was charged. 

The survivor said she anticipated her rapist would admit to his actions, apologize and reach a settlement with her, but instead, Turner hired a defense team and went ahead with pursuing a trial.

Since both parties were intoxicated at the time of the assault—with the woman’s blood-alcohol concentration three times the legal limit and Turner’s two times the limit—Turner’s counsel felt it had a case, claiming the sexual encounter was consensual. The victim has said she never gave any sort of consent. 

The arraignment

In February 2015, Turner was arraigned at the Santa Clara County Courthouse, pleading not guilty to five felony charges, which included rape of an intoxicated person, rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration by a foreign object of an unconscious woman, sexual penetration by a foreign object of an intoxicated woman and assault with intent to commit rape. Turner was released on $150,000 bail. 

The preliminary hearing

In October 2015, Turner once again pleaded not guilty to the charges. Charges for rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person were subsequently dropped. It was determined that Turner would stand trial for the three other charges.

Turner convicted of sexual assault

The prosecution held that Turner was aware the woman was drunk and knowingly took advantage of her, with prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci saying in her closing arguments that Turner was “the face of campus sexual assault.”

The defense claimed that the victim had consented to sex and that he had only run away from the bikers because he felt sick from alcohol.

Turner was convicted in March of three charges of felony sexual assault. He faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison, and he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. 

Turner blames party culture

Turner wrote a letter to presiding judge Aaron Persky, which was read during his sentencing. In the letter, which was released by The Guardian, Turner blames the alcohol and party culture on today’s college campuses for the sexual assault. 

The survivor’s letter

The unnamed survivor read a letter she wrote to Turner in front of the court. Buzzfeed later released her full statement, which has since garnered more than 13 million views.

“How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment,” she said. “If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”

In her statement, she says Turner “failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct.”

Watch CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield read the statement below.

Dan Turner’s letter

Turner’s father Dan also read a letter he wrote in open court during the sentencing. The letter stated that any jail time for the his son’s actions would be too harsh, and asked for Persky to solely grant him probation. 

The elder Turner referred to the sexual assault as “20 minutes of action,” wording he later apologized for. 

“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” the elder Turner wrote. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

Turner’s comment that his son was having trouble eating his favorite food earned a strong rebuke from Stanford professor Michele Dauber.

“Compare the problems associated with not eating your favorite food to being sexually assaulted,” Dauber told CNN. 

The sentencing

Despite prosecutors asking Persky—a Stanford graduate and former men’s lacrosse player at the university—to grant the 20-year-old a six-year sentence, Turner received six months in Santa Clara County Jail on June 2, as well as three years’ probation.

Persky’s reasoning for the light sentence was that he believed more time spent in jail would have a “severe impact” on the life and future of Turner, who once had Olympic aspirations. 

The district attorney, Jeff Rosen, criticized the length of the sentence.

“The punishment does not fit the crime,” he​ said. “The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim’s ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. And I will prosecute it as such.”

The aftermath

Petition to remove the judge

Following Persky’s decision, a petition was created to remove him from his post. As of June 9, it had nearly 900,000 supporters. 

“We the people would like to petition that Judge Aaron Persky be removed from his Judicial position for the lenient sentence he allowed in the Brock Turner rape case,” the petition reads. “Despite a unanimous guilty verdict, three felony convictions, the objections of 250 Stanford students, Jeff Rosen the district attorney for Santa Clara, as well as the deputy district attorney who likened Turner to ‘a predator searching for prey’ Judge Persky allowed the lenient sentence suggested by the probation department. Turner has shown no remorse and plans to attempt to overturn his conviction. Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency. He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender or other factors. Please help rectify this travesty to justice.​”

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber is also leading a recall campaign against Persky. 

The mugshot debate

Despite his arrest, conviction and subsequent sentencing, authorities refused to release Turner’s mugshot until Monday, more than 16 months after the incident occurred.

The prior concealment of Turner’s mugshot spurred the use of the hashtag, #NoMugShot, which highlighted the fact that the photo most commonly used by the media—a smiling portrait of the swimmer—was inconsistent with photos used of other accused rapists, particularly when the accused is a minority. 

USA Swimming responds

Since Turner was not a member of USA Swimming when the assault occurred, he could not be banned from the organization, according to USA Swimming Director of Safe Sport Susan Woessner.

“He was not a member [of USA Swimming] at the time of his crime or since then,” Woessner said of Turner, who is a former member of the USA Swimming National Junior Team. “USA Swimming doesn’t have any jurisdiction over non-members.”

Woessner added that Turner will not be allowed to become a member of USA Swimming in the future.

“Turner would be not eligible to become a member should he attempt to return to the organization in the future,” said Woessner.

Vice President Biden pens letter to survivor

United State Vice President Joe Biden, who wrote the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, sent a letter written to the unnamed survivor to Buzzfeed on Thursday. In his “Open Letter to a Courageous Young Woman,” Biden lauds the woman for her courage and states his disgust with the incident.

“I am in awe of your courage for speaking out—for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity,” Biden wrote. “And I am filled with furious anger—both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.”

• Yale basketball’s Jack Montague scandal, explained​

Early release?

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Turner is expected to serve just half of his six-month sentence and that he is expected to be released from jail on Sept. 2. According to the report, Turner will be released in early September if he keeps a clean disciplinary record while detained.

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