SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity house was released from jail Friday after serving half a six-month sentence that critics denounced as too lenient.
Brock Turner’s case ignited fierce debate over campus rape and the criminal justice system. It led California lawmakers to pass a tougher sexual assault law and prompted an effort to recall the judge.
The 21-year-old told authorities he plans to live with his parents in his native Ohio, where he must register as a sex offender for life. Lawyers say the requirement will make it difficult for him to find jobs and housing.
Here are some questions and answers about Turner’s impending release:
WHAT WAS TURNER’S CRIME?
Turner and the victim drank heavily at a fraternity party and left together in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2015. About 30 yards from the frat house, she passed out near a trash bin. Turner was sexually assaulting her when two graduate students passing by on bicycles confronted him, pinned him down as he tried to flee and called police. Turner, then an Olympic hopeful, unsuccessfully argued that the encounter was consensual. He was convicted of three sexual assault felonies, including digital penetration of an unconscious woman.
WHAT WAS HIS SENTENCE?
Six months in jail, three years of probation and registering as a sex offender for life. Turner faced a minimum sentence of two years in prison, and prosecutors argued for six years.
Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky cited the “extraordinary circumstances” of Turner’s youth, clean criminal record and other considerations in departing from the minimum sentence. The judge followed the probation department’s recommendation for a “moderate” jail sentence, saying prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner and he likely “will not be a danger to others.”
Critics argue the sentence minimized sexual assault on college campuses and called attention to inequality in the courts. They say Turner’s ability to hire an experienced criminal attorney set him apart from many defendants who rely on overworked public defenders.
WHY DID THE CASE GENERATE SO MUCH ATTENTION?
Buzzfeed published the victim’s powerful statement that quickly circulated on social media. She read it before Turner’s June 2 sentencing, noting probation officials took into account his lost swimming career in its recommendation to the judge.
“How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment,” the victim said. “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.”
CNN anchor Ashleigh Banford read the entire 7,200-word statement on air and members of Congress took turns reading it aloud on the House floor. Vice President Joe Biden wrote a public letter to the victim saying, “I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul.” The woman has not spoken publicly.
The furor grew after letters surfaced that Turner’s family and friends wrote urging the judge to be lenient. Turner’s father lamented that his son’s life was ruined by “20 minutes of action” and his grandparents complained that “Brock is the only person being held accountable for the actions of other irresponsible adults.”
WHY WAS TURNER RELEASED AFTER ONLY THREE MONTHS?
Turner, like nearly all California jail inmates, was released after serving half his sentence. As long as jail inmates stay out of trouble behind bars, they generally get two days of credit for every day served.
WHAT’S THE FALLOUT?
The California Assembly voted 66-0 Monday to make a prison sentence mandatory for the same crime Turner committed. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has not said whether he would sign it.
Judge Persky is facing a recall effort, with organizers saying they will begin collecting signatures in April to try to qualify the issue for the November 2017 ballot. A women’s advocacy group has filed a formal misconduct complaint with the state agency that disciplines judges.
He also has voluntarily removed himself from hearing criminal cases, starting next week. Prosecutors earlier removed from an unrelated sex assault case.
WHERE WILL TURNER LIVE?
Turner is expected to return to his parent’s home near Dayton, where he grew up and excelled as a high school swimmer. Ohio prison officials have agreed to take over monitoring Turner, and he is required to register as a sex offender with the county sheriff. He will have to report to a probation officer for three years and must avoid alcohol and drugs during that time. He will be subjected to random drug and alcohol tests and required to attend substance abuse counseling. He is required to pay his victim restitution, which has not yet been determined. Most significant, he is required to register as a sex offender for life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REGISTER AS A SEX OFFENDER?
He must complete a sex-offender counseling class for one to three years. He cannot live near schools, parks and other places where children congregate. He will be barred from working with children in any capacity. He will be required to submit to random polygraph tests and waive patient-counselor confidentiality privileges. His name, photo and address will be publicly available on Ohio’s online sex offender registry. The local sheriff plans to send postcards to Turner’s neighbors informing them that a sex offender has moved in nearby. Turner has to check in with the sheriff every three months and is subject to random searches of his home. He must seek permission from law enforcement to travel out of state, lawyers say.
IS TURNER APPEALING HIS CONVICTION?
Turner’s trial lawyer indicated he would. Court records show Solomon Robert Wollack is representing Turner through the Sixth District Appellate Program, which provides court-appointed appeals attorneys to defendants who can’t afford them. Wollack said the appeals court has not yet received the trial record, “so we are still very early in the process at this time.” He declined further comment.
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