Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Make a gift today and you could win a trip to Portugal!

Momentum Grows To Oust Judge After Sexual Assualt Sentence Sparks Outrage


A judge in California is under fire for what some say was a slap on the wrist he gave to a former Stanford University student. The student was convicted of raping a woman who passed out after a fraternity party. He was sentenced to six months in a county jail. And as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many are now trying to oust the judge.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Jurors found 20-year-old Brock Turner guilty of three felonies, including sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. At sentencing, the victim described how she came to in a hospital, bloody and bruised, and slowly learned how she'd been raped in the dirt behind a dumpster. Two strangers found her and caught Turner trying to run away. In an emotional courtroom statement that's since gone viral, the victim said she wanted to shed her whole body. She was terrified, unable to talk or sleep. Turner was facing three to 14 years in prison, but the judge gave him six months in county jail, much to the victim's dismay.

ALALEH KIANERCI: She was very outraged by the sentence. And she felt almost a re-victimization of what she went through.

SMITH: Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci says it was bad enough for the victim to hear Turner's claims that she liked what he was doing to her, but it was yet another blow when Judge Aaron Persky showed concern for Turner, a star student and champion swimmer, explaining that prison would, quote, "have a severe impact on him."

MARIA RUIZ: That really was the clincher. To me, he should not be worried about this person. He should be worried about the rape victim and the other rape victims that basically are scared to tell their story and then get nothing out of it.

SMITH: That's Maria Ruiz, a nurse in Florida who launched an online petition to have the judge recalled that's got some 200,000 signatures.

RUIZ: I can't sit idly by while this judge basically raped her again of any kind of justice.

SMITH: A separate recall effort was launched yesterday by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who's a family friend of the victim. As she sees it, Judge Persky is as clueless as the defendant, who seemed to accept responsibility for drinking and, quote, "sexual promiscuity," but not sexual assault. Dauber was further outraged by the defendant's father, who pleaded for leniency, saying his son was already paying a steep price for, quote, "20 minutes of action." He lamented that his son will have to register as a sex offender, that he'll, quote, "never be his happy-go-lucky self" and that he doesn't even enjoy his favorite snacks or steaks anymore.

MICHELE DAUBER: He was talking about, like, pretzels and steak. And it just was, like, I don't even think you understand what's happened here. And it's pretty disheartening, actually.

SMITH: A Stanford student and a local columnist have published articles defending the sentence, but they've been blasted online and declined to comment for this report. Even some attorneys who've railed against colleges for being too harsh on alleged offenders, in this case, agree the punishment wasn't harsh enough.

KEN MARGOLIN: I thought it was shockingly inadequate.

SMITH: Boston attorney Ken Margolin, who represents accused students, says Turner had a good lawyer and a fair trial. What Margolin's troubled by is how much privilege or race may have played a role in the punishment.

MARGOLIN: It's hard not to wonder if he was some street young man from the wrong side of the tracks, poor - would he have gotten six months in jail? I doubt it.

SMITH: It's an issue the victim raised as well. The fact that he was athlete, she said, should not entitle him to leniency. It's like his extracurriculars, quote, "cancel out all the sickening things that have happened." Tovia Smith, NPR News.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier headline and in the audio introduction to this story, we incorrectly said Brock Turner was convicted of rape; in fact, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier headline and in the audio introduction to this story, we incorrectly said Brock Turner was convicted of rape; in fact, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault.
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.