Rape case wrist slap

December 13, 2018

Justice may be blind, but not its sister; injustice is typically calculated. Consider the wrist slap given a frat boy accused in a grand jury indictment of four counts of sexual assault involving a fellow Baylor University student. Attorneys for Jacob Walter Anderson negotiated a plea bargain with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office that will keep him out of prison and off any sex offender registry.

The plea deal was announced Monday after District Judge Ralph Strother agreed to accept it. Anderson pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony charge of unlawful restraint. A sexual assault conviction could have put him in prison for up to 20 years.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that Anderson, former president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter at Baylor, was offered a sterner plea deal two months after he was indicted in April 2016, which would have required 10 years on probation and a $5,000 fine.

His lawyers instead got a better deal that includes three years of deferred adjudication probation, a $400 fine and psychological, alcohol and substance abuse counseling. No doubt there are many sex offenders behind bars who couldn’t even imagine being treated as leniently.

Court records said a woman at a fraternity party in South Waco became disoriented after drinking punch someone handed to her. She said Anderson subsequently led her to a secluded area behind a tent to get some air and sexually assaulted her. “This guy violently raped me multiple times, choked me and when I blacked out, he dumped me face down on the ground and left me to die.”

The woman said she woke up choking on vomit and was taken to the hospital by friends who helped her report the incident to Waco police. Anderson, 23, of Garland, withdrew from Baylor two weeks after the incident.

After learning in August that a plea bargain was possible, the unnamed rape victim sent an email to McLennan County prosecutors objecting to the deal. “I have been waiting two and a half years for this trial,” the email said. “I have been through hell and back, and my life has been forever turned upside down. I feel like I should have the right to the trial for the four counts of sexual assault the grand jury indicted him on.”

McLennan County prosecutor Hilary LaBorde sent an email to the victim explaining that she offered Anderson a plea deal after an acquittal in a similar sexual assault case. She said she was concerned Anderson would be found not guilty.

The decision not to try Anderson is more troubling given the poor reputation Baylor has earned for its treatment of sexual assault victims. Two years ago the university demoted its president, Ken Starr, and fired football coach Art Briles amid reports of multiple sexual assaults by football players that were either ignored or inadequately adjudicated. Baylor did suspend Phi Delta Theta after Anderson was charged.

Strother also brought controversy to the case. The judge was criticized last year for granting probation to an alleged assailant in a 2013 assault case. Earlier this year, he sentenced a man to 30 days in jail and felony probation for a sexual assault. Strother was also accused of bias and recused last year from hearing cases stemming from the 2015 shootout between bikers and Waco police that left that nine people dead outside a Twin Peaks restaurant.

Strother stood by his decision to approve the plea deal, saying he had reviewed an extensive background report compiled by the probation department as well as briefs filed by attorneys of the victim and the defendant.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Anderson, now a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, seemed to blame the victim for her plight. They said her victim impact statement left out “some passionate kissing, groping and grinding by this girl and Mr. Anderson that occurred in front of more than 100 people at this party.” They also said she had been drinking heavily and that there was no physical evidence that she had sex with Anderson.

The victim’s attorney, former McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell, said he has recommended she file a civil lawsuit against Anderson. Perhaps there she will find justice. Plea bargains are not inherently bad, but when a trial is derailed by behind-the-scene deals, suspicions are naturally raised. That is especially so in sexual assault cases. The cost of a trial is worth the cost of finding out the truth.