When former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was convicted in March of raping an incapacitated woman behind a Dumpster after a campus frat party, he faced a maximum of 14 years in prison. Instead, at a sentencing hearing last week, Judge Aaron Persky gave the 20-year-old Turner a mere six months in jail.
"A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him," Persky said of Turner, who was convicted of three felonies. "I think he will not be a danger to others."
Now the judge — a former corporate attorney and prosecutor who had a reputation for being tough on sex offenders — is facing a firestorm of criticism, with many accusing him of giving preferential treatment to a rich, white defendant who was a star athlete. A petition to remove Persky from the bench in Santa Clara County has received nearly 600,000 signatures.
But some people are sticking up for the judge. Gary Goodman, the supervising attorney for the Santa Clara County public defender's office, told the New York Times that Persky is "an exceptional jurist," and rejected the assertion that race, class, or athletics had anything to do with Turner's light sentence.
"People say it's because he's a Stanford kid and he's rich and the judge played lacrosse," Goodman said, referencing the fact that Persky is a Stanford alumnus who was the captain of the school's lacrosse team. "No, it's not done that way. It can't be done that way. It would have been the exact same result for a person of color. "
Many others — including several prominent lawmakers — have publicly decried the lenient sentence.
"Six months for someone who viciously attacked a woman especially after she was so brave to come forward, is outrageous," California Senator Barbara Boxer said in a statement.
Turner's victim read a powerful 12-page statement during the sentencing hearing that described how the attack affected her, and how the court apparently privileged his well-being over hers.
"The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard-earned swimming scholarship," she wrote. "How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment… 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."
The statement went viral this week when it was published by BuzzFeed, but the victim has chosen to remain anonymous. In a statement released by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office, she said that in addition to seeking to protect her privacy, she also wanted to remain a voice for all women.
"I'm coming out to you simply as a woman wanting to be heard," she said. "For now, I am every woman."
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen