Judge Aaron Persky seemed to believe the larger narrative Brock Turner put forward at trial, that he was a freshman swimming champion from small-town Ohio, naive about drinking and partying, who made one quick bad decision.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky said he took Brock Turner “at his word” when he sentenced the one-time Stanford University swimming star on charges that he sexually assaulted a woman on campus.
Turner said he thought he was having consensual sex with the victim, 22, even though she was unconscious when he was caught on top of her behind a garbage bin.
Persky also seemed to believe the larger narrative Turner put forward during that trial: A 19-year-old freshman and swimming champion from small-town Ohio, naive about drinking and partying, looked to his swim teammates for guidance in a wild new social realm and made one quick bad decision.
But 471 pages of documents released by the Santa Clara County Superior Court show Turner lied about never using drugs and not drinking before college. And they depict Turner as not simply making a bad choice, but having a penchant for making aggressive, unwanted advances on women; at the fraternity party where he met the victim, he kept forcing kisses on the victim’s younger sister as she “wiggled out of his hold.” At a party a week before, he “creeped out” a woman he tried to grab.
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Prosecutors, who asked for a sentence of six years in prison at the June 2 hearing, wrote that his “behavior is not typical assaultive behavior that you find on campus, but it is more akin to a predator who is searching for prey.”
Apparently unswayed, Persky sentenced Turner, now 20, to what will probably amount to three months in county jail, since county jail inmates serve 50 percent of their sentences if they keep a clean disciplinary record.
Persky’s sentencing decision landed him in the center of a firestorm.
A Stanford law professor has launched an effort to recall Persky, and nearly 1 million people have signed an online petition calling on the California Commission for Judicial Performance to remove him.
At a time the country is engaged in a pitched debate over what constitutes consent for sex in college, the Stanford case appeared, to many, to be a clear case of rape. Two Swedish graduate students bicycling early Jan. 18, 2015, found Turner on top of the half-naked victim while she was unconscious. He tried to run when they saw him, but they pinned him down and called police.
She woke up on a gurney in a hospital. Her hair was matted with pine needles. She had abrasions and dirt in her vagina — and no memory of the assault. The assault, which involved digital penetration, occurred behind a garbage bin outside a fraternity house.
Both the victim and Turner had been drinking: Her blood-alcohol level was about three times the legal limit when it was tested, and his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He told police that though he was drunk, he could “remember everything.” He said she “seemed to enjoy” it.
On Jan. 28, Turner was formally charged with two counts of rape, two counts of penetration and one count of assault with intent to rape. He pleaded not guilty. In October, a judge tossed out the rape charges and ordered Turner to stand trial on the remaining counts.
He was convicted by a jury March 30, 2016, of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object (his finger or fingers) and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
He was sentenced to six months in county jail and three months’ probation. He was also ordered to complete a sex-offender management program and register as a convicted sex offender for the rest of his life. His attorney is appealing the sentence.
At the June 2 sentencing, the victim, now 23, read her statement, which went viral, presenting an eloquent account of her devastation and a raw critique of Turner’s claim of innocence:
“Brock stated, ‘At no time did I see that she was not responding. If at any time I thought she was not responding, I would have stopped immediately.’ Here’s the thing; if your plan was to stop only when I became unresponsive, then you still do not understand. You didn’t even stop when I was unconscious anyway! Someone else stopped you. Two guys on bikes noticed I wasn’t moving in the dark and had to tackle you. How did you not notice while on top of me?
“To sit under oath and inform all of us, that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that you are the true victim attacked by Swedes for reasons unknown to you, is appalling, is demented, is selfish, is damaging. It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity of validity of this suffering.”
The prosecutors’ documents cast doubt on Turner’s claims of naiveté.
The morning of the assault and Turner’s arrest, investigators found a text message in a “Group Me” application on his cellphone that said “Who’s (breasts) are those?” Detectives sent his phone to a crime lab to try to retrieve the message and any attached photos. But they could not because they were deleted, apparently by a third party, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also cited several examples of Turner using hard drugs and alcohol in high school in Oakwood, a wealthy Dayton suburb, and during his four months at Stanford. Text messages showed that in Ohio and at Stanford, he had used LSD and MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy, one time in combination, known as a “candyflippin,” according to prosecutors. He smoked marijuana and dabs of butane hash oil, known as “wax.”
“Do you think I could buy some wax so we could do some dabs?” he texted to a friend in 2014.
That year he was also arrested for underage drinking.
According to prosecutors, Turner and members of his swim team were stopped by a deputy after they were seen drinking beer on campus and then tried to run away. Turner was wearing a bright orange tuxedo, had a fake driver’s license and smelled of alcohol.
“He stated that when he saw Deputy Shaw approach, he made the decision to run. While running, he heard the verbal commands to stop, but continued evading.
“He said it was a split-second decision and he regretted it.”
Before handing down the sentence June 2, Persky received several letters from Turner’s friends and family, asking the jurist for leniency.
Turner’s father said his son should not pay such a “steep price … for 20 minutes of action.”
Other letters came from Turner’s aunt, grandparents, childhood friends and former teachers.
A former guidance counselor at Oakwood High School praised his character and integrity and asked the judge to give him “a chance to reclaim his life.”
The guidance counselor, Kelly Owens, apologized last week for the statement.
“I pray for the victim, her family and all those affected by this horrible event. I am truly sorry for the additional pain my statement has caused. I tell my students they have to be accountable, and Brock is no exception.”