Update: The outrage over what critics see as the too-light punishment given to former CU Boulder student/convicted rapist Austin Wilkerson (see our previous coverage below) has spilled over online.
Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler, who last week sentenced Wilkerson to two years of work release and twenty years to life on probation, is the target of a petition calling for his ouster — and the page has collected more than 68,000 signatures at this writing.
So many people are supporting the petition that its goal has shifted.
Yesterday morning, the petition, penned by Becca Cales, aimed for 65,000 signees (and had gathered around 60,000). Now, however, the goal has been bumped up to 70,000 — and given the rate at which more signatures continue to accrue, there's a good chance the number will go up again.
Like the case of Stanford student Brock Turner, whose six-month jail sentence for three sexual assault convictions stirred controversy earlier this year, the Wilkerson matter is getting international attention, as witnessed by the nationalities of those who've joined the call for Butler to be bounced from the bench.
Those signing the petition are identified by state and/or country, and just this morning, people from Belgium, India, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and more have weighed in.
Some sample comments from signatories:
It is time to get rid of judges that protect rapists. This guy admitted that he raped her, admitted he took what she had repeatedly told him she didn't want to give. This is not assault, this is not an oops, a boo-boo or momentary lack of judgement. This is horrific, callow, premeditated RAPE. He should have been given the maximum sentence, and I am appalled at the judge caring more about the predator than the victim.
Absolutely sickening, and those in authority will be even more sickening if they fail to remove Judge Butler from the bench.
This is not a judge....he's a clown. REMOVE HIM!!!! But don't stop there, get Wilkerson to serve prison time. He did not care about his victim's future so why should we care about his.
A judge who spends more time worrying about the future of a rapist than the victim is cleary unfit to pass out sentences. Should we stop convicting murderers as well because a conviction could possibly effect their futures negatively...?
That "judge" should be serving some time!!
According to Ballotpedia, Judge Butler was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper in October 2011 and prevailed in the 2014 election, collecting 74.6 percent of the votes after the Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance recommended that he be retained. His current six-year term expires in January 2021, but he could be removed by legislative impeachment — which explains why the petition is addressed to the Colorado House and Senate.
Continue to see the introduction to the petition, complete with the photo that illustrates it. That's followed by our earlier report, featuring an interview with Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Austin Wilkerson raped a half-conscious young woman, but will serve zero prison time due to yet another judge’s lenient sentencing. Similar to what happened in the Brock Turner case, Judge Butler decided that Austin’s future was more important than his victim’s. For this unjust sentencing, we demand that Judge Butler be removed from the bench in Colorado.
It could have been me. I went to college a short drive from CU-Boulder and live just south of Boulder now. Like plenty of college students, I was at plenty of parties where I drank — but that doesn’t mean that I — or any other person — wouldn’t deserve justice if I were sexually assaulted.
According to court documents, Austin had made advances on the victim earlier in the night and when she rebuffed him he was “pissed off” and called her a “f*$%ing bitch.” Later that night after a St. Patrick’s Day party, Austin told the victim’s friends he would “take care” of her, leading them to believe he would get her home safely. Instead, he sexually assaulted her multiple ways while she slipped in and out of consciousness.
Austin was convicted of sexually assaulting a helpless victim and unlawful sexual assault in May. Under Colorado’s laws, he should have faced 4-12 years in prison with the possibility of life if he wasn’t deemed fit for release. But Judge Butler had doubts about whether Austin could be rehabilitated and so didn't want to send him to prison. This is not an impartial judge.
District Attorney Stan Garnett said that Austin “tried to cover up his crime, and then repeatedly lied about what he did — including under oath at trial.” DA Garnett went on to say, “It is objectively offensive to consider as ‘punishment enough’ the fact that the defendant will have to pursue a career as a biochemist instead of as a medical doctor.”
Yet Austin’s lawyers argued that “the most traumatic incident that Austin has faced is this sexual assault case.” But what about his victim? Austin chose to rape this young woman and it’s the most traumatic thing to happen to him?
At court, his victim said, “When I’m not having nightmares about the rape, retaliation or a retrial gone awry, I’m having panic attacks,” she said. “Some days I can’t even get out of bed.” She pleaded with the judge for a prison sentence, saying, "Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night.” His victim describes her life as "ruined socially, psychologically, academically and financially."
Austin is getting a slap on the wrist for a violent sexual crime and his following manipulative behavior all because of Judge Butler. Judge Butler even admitted he worried Austin did “play the system.” Yet he still gave Austin an extremely lenient sentence. We demand that Judge Butler be removed from the bench for his biased and sexist sentencing.
Original post, 5:39 a.m. August 12: The circumstances of the sexual assault committed by former University of Colorado Boulder student Austin Wilkerson are unique (and distressing). But the outcome — Wilkerson will spend no time in prison for his crime — is all too familiar.
An example: In speaking about the sex-assault case against Air Force Cadet Jack Warmolts, whose attorneys were given the new address of his alleged victim in a controversial judicial decision, Brie Akins, executive director for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, cited the light sentence handed out to accused Stanford rapist Brock Turner this past June.
"In the Stanford case, we saw extreme leniency when there was discretion around sentencing," Akins said, adding, "There needs to be training around judges in order to make informed decisions around these types of things. You get judges with a wide range of expertise and knowledge making decisions about what is and isn't relevant in a case — and a lot of victim-blaming myths come into place."
Akins's words echo those used by Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett in describing his frustration over the modest punishment imposed on the 22-year-old Wilkerson, who was convicted of unlawful sexual assault and sexual assault against a helpless victim (the woman was drunk and only semi-conscious).
Wilkerson was eligible for between four and twelve years in prison — a sentence that could have been extended indefinitely under Colorado law if he was seen as unfit for release at the end of the maximum term. Instead, Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler gave him two years of work release and twenty years to life on probation.
The sentence is getting national attention, as demonstrated by a statement denouncing it by Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, which describes itself as "an online community of over 1,000,000 women and men who want to take collective action to expose and fight sexism in the public sector, private sector and the media." Earlier this year, UltraViolet called for Papa John's, Nationwide and other companies to drop endorsement contracts with former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning due to a scandal over a 1996 incident with a female doctor at the University of Tennessee. See the Wilkerson statement below.
For his part, DA Garnett says, "Our concern is that the message being sent by the courts to the community is that this isn't that big a deal and that we need to make sure we help this kid" — Wilkerson — "move his future forward."
To Garnett, the sentence is even more frustrating given the sickening nature of the crime and Wilkerson's subsequent efforts to deny wrongdoing while casting aspersions on the victim — actions detailed in a sentencing memorandum assembled by two of his deputies, Lisa Saccomano and Caryn Datz, who handled the actual prosecution of the case. The document is on view below.
Warning: Some readers will be disturbed by the details of the case.
On March 15, 2014, according to the memo, the victim had too much to drink while celebrating St. Patrick's Day weekend — and Wilkerson told friends that he was going to take care of her. His roommate saw him checking her pulse and temperature and giving her water.
Shortly thereafter, the document maintains, Wilkerson sexually penetrated the woman "digitally and orally" before masturbating onto her stomach. Once he finished, he sent a text to the victim's friend in which he portrayed himself as a caretaker. The text earned him a thanks for his supposedly thoughtful behavior.
Wilkerson had made numerous romantic advances in regard to the woman in the past and told CU investigators that her rejection left him feeling "pissed off." He referred to her as a "fucking bitch" and initially denied that anything sexual had taken place, the memo says, until he was "confronted with the possibility that his semen might have ended up on the victim." At that point, he is said to have acknowledged that he'd masturbated, but claimed he'd ejaculated into the toilet — and speculated that if any of it wound up on the woman, that's where she'd come into contact with it.
At trial, the document goes on, Wilkerson's account took another direction. He insisted that the victim wasn't inebriated, had reacted "passionately" when they'd hooked up, and made "pleasure sounds" when he "caressed her vagina." He also denied (again) that he'd masturbated and said he'd ended the encounter prematurely because he felt guilty about cheating on his girlfriend.
During an interview after his conviction, Wilkerson's story shifted again, the memo maintains, with him admitting to the masturbation and more and displaying a "'striking' degree of accountability." But prosecutors Saccomano and Datz argued that this change of tone didn't erase his actions at trial, when he "essentially called the victim a liar while her father sat in the courtroom and listened." Among his assertions: He said the victim, who was so traumatized by the incident that she made an unsuccessful attempt to end her life, had accused him of raping her "in a petty attempt to avoid anger from her parents about her grades in school."
"This defendant pretty much gave untrue versions of what happened right up until he was convicted, even on the witness stand," Garnett points out. "He really just ripped the victim, blamed the victim, said she enjoyed it, which was totally untrue — and the jury didn't believe any of it. Then, once he gets convicted, he goes to the probation department and says he's really taking responsibility and understands what happened and everything else. But I do think there should be some consequences in the court's eyes for a guy who tries to play the system all the way through — and certainly Mr. Wilkerson did."
The prison-free sentence invites the kind of criticism associated with Stanford rapist Turner — that a white, affluent college student received a relative wrist-slap for a crime that would have almost certainly have earned heavy sanction had it been committed by a less privileged person of color.
Garnett is wary of going there, saying, "I know all of these judges well. I deal with them professionally all the time, and they're all honorable people. I don't mean to imply that there's overt racism or sexism in what's happening."
At the same time, he feels that the sentence "reflects the difficulty judges have in appreciating the seriousness of this type of sex assault. These cases where you've got a young college kid in front of you who clearly has a supportive family — a bright kid who everybody likes to say has a bright future ahead of him. In those cases, it's very hard for the judge to hit the right balance" without implying that everyone would be better off if the victim just put the sorry incident behind her. "There was a bit of that tone in the sentencing," he feels.
The Wilkerson verdict had a recent precursor in Boulder. Former Air Force Academy cadet Daniel Ryerson was convicted of rape, and the Boulder DA's office cited evidence that he showed no remorse for his actions and blamed his victim. As a result, Garnett says, "We asked for prison time — and we didn't get it." Instead, Ryerson was ordered to spend six months in Boulder County Jail, plus ten years to life on probation as a sex offender.
Such outcomes are particularly unfortunate given a recent CU Boulder report showing that 92 percent of sexual-assault victims on the campus don't report the crime. "We're very concerned about that," Garnett emphasizes. "We work very hard with the university and the community to send the message out there that we have excellent prosecutors, excellent victims' advocates and we know how to handle these cases; we know how to treat the people involved and what happened with dignity and help them move on with their life. But we also need the courts to impose the appropriate sentence."
Could the growing outrage over sentences like the one handed to Wilkerson cause judges to toughen up on criminals like him down the line? "I am hopeful that good advocacy and a vigorous discussion about these issues will help in the future," Garnett says.
In the meantime, though, Austin Wilkerson's own future won't include the prison sentence his prosecutors continue to think he deserves. Continue to see the aforementioned UltraViolet statement and the sentencing memorandum.
Statement by Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet
“Austin Wilkerson is a convicted rapist, who isolated, targeted and sexually assaulted an unconscious woman — and yet because of our so-called justice system and judges like Patrick Butler, his well-being is prioritized and protected over the survivor of his crime. This is wrong.
“This is yet another tragic example of our national rape-culture epidemic at work, in which our society — including our legal institutions — excuses and normalizes sexual violence. It doesn’t get any plainer than the decision by Justice Patrick Butler, who prioritized the well-being of the perpetrator over justice for the survivor of a brutal crime.
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“Whether it’s the case of Brock Turner in California, John Enochs in Indiana or Austin Wilkerson in Colorado, we need judges on the bench that take rape and sexual assault seriously. Survivors of rape and sexual assault deserve better than this.”