22-year-old former University of Colorado student Austin James Wilkerson was convicted of felony sexual assault after raping an intoxicated woman in 2014.
The then 20-year-old Wilkerson told the woman’s friends he would escort her home from a St. Patrick’s Day party safely, but instead raped her while she was incapacitated.
The victim pleaded with Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler to consider a prison sentence for Wilkerson, but the judge sentenced him to ZERO prison time.
via NY Daily News:
“Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night,” the victim told Butler during her tearful testimony, according to the Daily Camera.
But the judge spared Wilkerson prison time, choosing not to invoke Colorado’s “indeterminate sentencing” policy for sex offenses, where inmates are given an open-ended sentence and released when counselors deem them fit to re-enter society.
The policy is currently the target of a class-action lawsuit filed by family members of sex offenders.
Butler decided against condemning Wilkerson to the fate of indefinite detention, instead slapping him with 20 years of probation and two years in a work-release program — allowing the sex offender to attend school or go to work during the day while serving time in a county jail.
“I’ve struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of, ‘Do I put him in prison?'” Butler wondered aloud during sentencing, the Daily Camera reported.
“I don’t know that there is any great result for anybody. Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated,” he added.
Wilkerson’s sentence is actually the norm for how judges punish perpetrators of sexual assault. An analysis of Justice Department data by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network found that 97 out of 100 convicted rapists aren’t put in prison.
Prosecutors had urged Butler to consider prison time, arguing that Wilkerson’s attack was a deliberate and deceptive sex assault.
“This defendant raped a helpless young woman after duping the people around her into believing he was going to care for her, tried to cover up his crime, and then repeatedly lied about what he did — including under oath at trial,” District Attorney Stan Garnett wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
The victim was not present during sentencing, but told the Boulder courtroom during trial how the assault had altered her life.
“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.”
Wilkerson admitted to assaulting the woman and apologized to her before the courtroom, the Daily Caller reported.
“I sexually assaulted (the victim),” Wilkerson said. “No words I can say could ever take away the pain and fear that I have caused. Nothing I say can make it better, but I am so sorry.”
Wilkerson, now 22, is no longer a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, and was ordered to avoid the campus while his victim finishes school. While still a student, he was a Ralphie Handler, a buffalo herder for the school’s football program.
According to a University of Colorado survey, 28% of students say they were victims of some kind of sexual violence while in school, which is even higher than the ubiquitous estimate that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted on college campuses.
There have been 131 reports of sexual assault on Boulder’s campus between 2001 and 2012, according to Clery numbers. Advocates for survivors estimate that less than half of victims report their sexual assault, which could push the numbers much higher.
Wilkerson’s victim was not present during his sentencing, but the judge addressed her father, praising his daughter’s courage for coming forward.
“That kind of strength is really admirable,” Butler said. “Without ever forgetting this happened, I hope she is able to find hope for the future. She is clearly a bright, articulate young lady who, like everybody else, deserves a positive and hopeful future. I hope with the help and love of family and professionals, she is able to continue moving forward so that this event, where she was the victim, is not the only defining moment in her life.”
Our justice system is truly broken.