Baylor Frat Judge Has Recent History of Lenient Sentences for Accused Rapists

Texas Judge Ralph Strother has received backlash for helping men accused of sexual assault avoid harsher sentences.

Dec 11 2018, 7:38pm

Texas Judge Ralph Strother is earning a reputation for doling out lenient sentences to accused sexual assailants after this week he offered a Baylor University student charged on four counts of sexual assault a plea deal without any jail time or requirements to register as a sex offender. On Monday, the student, 23-year-old Jacob Anderson, took Strother's deal.

Anderson was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman at a 2016 off-campus party his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, threw under his leadership as frat president. During the party, Anderson allegedly took the woman, who was intoxicated, outside to a "secluded part of the grounds" where he then sexually assaulted as while she was gagged and choked. The victim allegedly lost consciousness during the attack, at which point Anderson left the scene, leaving her at risk of choking to death on her own vomit, according to a warrant.

In October, the district attorney's office threw out the four sexual assault charges Anderson was initially brought up on for these alleged crimes, and charged him with "unlawful restraint" instead, for which the office recommended three years of deferred adjudication probation, a $400 fine, and counseling. If after three years Anderson hadn't violated his probation, a judge could dismiss the charge.

Strother accepted the district attorney's recommendation, fashioning the plea deal Anderson accepted on Tuesday.

Anderson's light sentencing marks at least the third time that Strother has allowed men accused of sexual assault to avoid harsher sentences, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Strother reportedly allowed a male student whom he sentenced to 30 days of jail time for sexual assault to serve his sentence on the weekends. And last year, Strother sentenced a man who pleaded guilty rape to deferred probation and ordered him to pay for his victim's counseling in lieu of of any jail time.

Strother's most recent sentencing has sparked protest, first and foremost from Anderson's victim, who the Washington Post reported openly wept in court on Monday, asking Strother to reject the plea deal. She later read from a victim impact statement, part of which indicted assistant district attorney Hilary LaBorde and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, who helped recommend the plea deal, for not showing up to the day's court proceedings.

“You both will have to live with this decision to let a rapist run free in society without any warning to future victims," she told them.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 88,000 people had signed an online petition expressing outrage at the decision, saying Anderson's sentencing sent a harmful message to victims of sexual assault.

"By agreeing to this plea, (prosecutor) Hilary LaBorde and the McLennan County DA's office have allowed that rape is no longer a crime in Texas," the petition reads. "They are telling the rapists and sexual predators, 'Go ahead and violently rape, choke to near death and abandon your unconscious, ravaged and used-up victim and we will make darn sure you get some counseling. Even if a grand jury indicts you on four counts of sexual assault, we don't care."

Another petition with much fewer signatures—just over 200—is calling explicitly for Strother's resignation or removal, arguing Strother denied Anderson's victim her right to a speedy and public trial.

And other people have taken to bombarding Strother's office with emails, letters, and at least 180 phone calls, expressing their indignation at his sentencing. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, Strother instructed his staff to screen the calls and only answer those they could determine weren't related to Anderson's plea deal.

The outrage directed at Strother personally recalls the campaign to remove Aaron Persky, the judge who sentenced Brock Turner to just six months in jail for multiple assault charges. The efforts, led by Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, were successful: In June, Persky became the first California judge to be recalled in more than 80 years.

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Like Strother, Persky had an apparent track record for giving men accused of sexual assault lenient sentences. “What we have here is a judge who has repeatedly abused his discretion in order to help out privileged offenders, often athletes, college athletes, who have committed serious violence against women,” Dauber said in a June interview with Glamour. "We voted today against impunity for high-status perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence."'

It's unclear whether the petitions targeting Strother will amount to an all-out campaign for his recall, Vic Feazell told KWTX. “It pays to be rich and white in McLennan County when you’re charged with a crime."