Outrage Grows Over Baylor Rape Plea Deal

Thousands calling for judge who accepted it to be removed from office
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2018 11:49 AM CST
Outrage Grows Over Baylor Rape Plea Deal
In this December 10 photo, former Baylor University fraternity president Jacob Anderson walks out of the courtroom in Waco, Texas. Anderson, accused of rape, will serve no jail time after a Waco district judge accepted a plea bargain for deferred probation   (Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

A week after a judge accepted a controversial plea deal for a former Baylor University fraternity president accused of rape, outrage is growing. USA Today reports on two petitions gaining momentum, one calling for the plea deal to be thrown out (more than 124,000 have signed as of this writing) and one calling for the judge to resign or be removed from office (more than 51,000 have signed as of this writing). Under the terms of the no-contest plea, Jacob Anderson will serve no jail time and will pay a $400 fine; he will not be required to register as a sex offender. It's not clear whether either petition has a hope of succeeding in its goal; USA Today notes that in Texas, there is no option for the public to recall judges, but legal experts say it may still be difficult for Judge Ralph Strother to remain on the bench. The 75-year-old's term ends in 2020. More on the case:

  • Prosecutor: Experts also say it will be difficult for the prosecutor who accepted the plea rather than going to trial, Hilary LaBorde, to recover from the backlash. LaBorde is also under fire for not appearing at the Monday hearing at which the plea was accepted.
  • What the prosecutor and the judge have to say: In explaining why she accepted the plea, LaBorde said the case would be hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, citing "conflicting evidence and statements." She told the victim that since Anderson did not have a history of sexual assaults, the jury would likely side with him. And after the plea deal, she said "there are many facts that the public does not have." For his part, Strother said the public comments surrounding the plea deal "fall into three categories: not fully informed, misinformed or totally uninformed.”

  • What the victim had to say: In a letter to Strother asking him not to accept the plea, the victim offered a graphic account of the 2016 rape and its aftermath, noting that she had been saving herself for marriage and Anderson took her virginity. She also detailed all she went through to report the rape and accused LaBorde of promising her a trial, then offering the plea without informing her first. "Many women are terrified to report rape," she wrote. "I wonder if other women in Waco will report their rapes if Jacob Anderson gets this plea? Why would they bother?" Read the letter in full at the Star-Telegram.
  • Response from Anderson's attorneys: Per the AP, they issued a statement saying the victim's account was "riddled with distortions and misrepresentations."
  • Why a plea bargain? At the Waco Tribune-Herald, opinion editor Bill Whitaker considers the fact that at the sentencing hearing, Strother suggested a pile of conflicting evidence might make the case "less than the slam dunk it might appear at first glance." In complicated cases, Whitaker writes, prosecutors have to weigh whether it's "wiser to press for a plea agreement that places at least some conditions, restrictions and penalties on the accused—or to push the case to trial when there’s enough conflicting evidence that an unconvinced jury could well allow the defendant to go free?" Full column here.
  • The ins and outs of a plea deal: KCEN has more on why Strother may have accepted the plea; a legal expert notes that prosecutors may have believed a plea deal was a better option for the state because Anderson will be required to serve three years of probation, meaning prosecutors can "keep an eye on him."
  • Baylor connections: Strother, LaBorde, and the McLennan County DA all graduated from Baylor, with Strother holding three degrees from the Baptist university. Strother has issued other light sentences for Baylor students convicted of rape and sexual assault. The AP looks at the controversial nature of Baylor's ties to the case here.
  • Delayed trial: Due to the "toxic environment" surrounding Strother, the judge has delayed a child abuse trial that was set to begin Tuesday in his courtroom, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.
(The case has drawn comparisons to California's Brock Turner case.)

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