SAN FRANCISCO — With outcry growing against those who stood by a former Stanford University swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, a childhood friend and a high school guidance counsellor have apologized for writing letters of support urging leniency for Brock Turner.
The case against the one-time Olympic hopeful has gripped the country, with letters to a judge from Turner’s family and friends drawing outrage from critics who say they are shifting blame from a 20-year-old who won’t take responsibility for his actions, while a searing message the victim read to Turner at his sentencing has been called a courageous account of the effect the assault has had on her life.
Taking into account more than three dozen letters from character witnesses and a recommendation from the county probation department, Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail and three years’ probation for attacking the intoxicated 23-year-old woman behind a campus dumpster in January 2015. He cited Turner’s clean criminal record and the effect the conviction will have on his life.
The term triggered criticism that a star athlete from a privileged background had gotten special treatment. Prosecutors had asked for six years in prison.
Turner will only serve three months behind bars, with his expected release date listed as Sept. 2, according to online inmate records. County jail inmates serve 50 per cent of their sentences if they keep a clean disciplinary record.
Calls to the county Department of Correction weren’t immediately returned Thursday.
Defendants can solicit letters of support from family, friends and others for judges to consider before sentencing. One of them came from Kelly Owens, a guidance counsellor at Oakwood High School in Dayton, Ohio, where Turner attended.
She had told the court that her former student was “absolutely undeserving of the outcome” of a jury trial that resulted in his conviction of three felony counts of sexual assault.
“I plead with you to consider the good things — the positive contributions — he can make to his community if given a chance to reclaim his life,” Owens wrote.
She regrets writing a letter to the judge and acknowledged it was a mistake, her school district said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
“Of course he should be held accountable,” Oakwood City School District Superintendent Kyle Ramey quotes Owens as saying. “I am truly sorry for the additional pain my letter has caused.”
Ramey declined to comment beyond his statement or make Owens available for an interview.
Leslie Rasmussen, a childhood friend of Turner’s, also faced blowback for writing a supportive letter. She had blamed campus drinking culture and political correctness for his drunken life choices.
“I was not there that night. I had no right to make any assumptions about the situation,” according to a posting Wednesday on a Facebook page that appears to be Rasmussen’s. “Most importantly, I did not acknowledge strongly enough the severity of Brock’s crime and the suffering and pain that his victim endured, and for that lack of acknowledgement, I am deeply sorry.”
Rasmussen didn’t respond to messages sent via Facebook. A listed phone number appears to be disconnected.
People angry about her letter took to social media to demand Rasmussen’s indie rock band Good English be dumped from at least four shows that included some Brooklyn clubs hosting a small music festival.
The graphic message the victim read in court gained widespread attention as she described her anger and emptiness. Vice-President Joe Biden released an open letter to the woman Thursday.
“I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul,” wrote Biden, who penned the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and is involved in the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign against campus sexual assault. “Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages. Words that I wish with all of my heart you never had to write.”