Ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, whose sexual assault conviction and sentencing sparked a national debate about "rape culture" on college campuses and white privilege in the legal system, walked out of Santa Clara County jail early Friday morning in San Jose after spending three months behind bars.
Turner, clad in a crumpled dress shirt, was handed a big packet of hate mail by guards as he exited at 6:08 a.m. With his head down, he slipped into a white SUV. The family checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn in Mountain View.
Turner didn't say anything to the throng of media agencies awaiting his departure from jail.
However, the bright lights and cameras that focused on him Friday illuminated a harsh fact: Turner will likely have trouble escaping notoriety even once at home in Ohio. For many, he is now the poster child for the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses, and protesters have begun lining up outside the Turner family's home in Greene County.
Anticipating his arrival, some protesters on Friday utilized Ohio's open carry rules and strapped AR-15s onto their bodies. They also carried signs promising to "castrate rapists."
"I think that six months was not enough for his actions," Kate Gorlaski said.
Fellow protester Molly Hardin agreed, saying, "Justice was not served for what Brock did to that victim."
The anger has generated worry among those who live nearby in the suburban town near Dayton.
There were no formal protests outside of the South Bay jail Friday, and Turner was not booed or harmed, as some had feared. But rape survivor Andrea Murphy was one of the few non-reporters who came to the event, saying she came just to look Turner in the eye.
Sheriff Laurie Smith, who is running for re-election, told reporters that this was an "outrage" describing what Turner did as the "rape" of an unconscious drunk woman. She added that Turner should "not have spent time in our jail," meaning that she thought the 21-year-old should have been given a harsher sentence in a state prison.
Smith had said earlier in the week that Turner wouldn't receive any "special favors." He would be released through the jail's front entrance, and wasn't getting access to a "backdoor," she had promised.
The trial and subsequent outrage prompted a California sex assault bill that's now being considered by Gov. Jerry Brown.
In a statement to Gov. Brown, Smith wrote that she urged him to sign the bill to "make clear that probation is not a fair sentence for anyone convicted of a sexual assault felony perpetrated against an intoxicated and unconscious victim."
Smith said in her statement dated Aug. 31 that as a sheriff and mother, "I do believe that the interests of justice are best served by ensuring that sexual predators are sent to prison as punishment for their crime."
While in jail, Turner shared a cell with five inmates. He was allowed to exercise in the yard for 90 minutes a day, but spent the rest of his time in protective custody because he was "at risk" from other inmates.
After Turner's release, District Attorney Jeff Rosen issued a statement, asking law makers to close a loophole in the law regarding unconscious victims and rape: "If we had our way, Brock Turner would be in state prison serving a six-year sentence, not going home. However, our focus today is on a bill that will require a state prison sentence, not probation, for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious person. With the governor’s signature, the next Brock Turner will go to prison."
A jury found Turner guilty in March of three counts of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman in January 2015. He was not convicted of rape. Turner served half of a six-month sentence — his early release is due to good behavior — that has brought heavy criticism on Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky.
A Stanford student testified that he saw Turner on top of a woman who wasn’t moving and, with another student, tackled the swimmer to the ground when he tried to run away. The woman, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara, said she had been drinking and did not want to have sex with Turner at a fraternity party they had attended. The case's profile rose even further when the young woman wrote a powerful letter describing her experience in an unusually direct way, earning praise across the country and even from Vice President Joe Biden. She has not been named publicly.
Turner's father drew attention to the case by writing a letter to the court saying just "20 minutes of action" should not justify a stint in jail.
Later Friday, women's groups such as Ultraviolet protested Turner's release, and continued their recall campaign against Judge Persky. Activists want the judge removed from the bench because of Turner's sentence, which could have been as long as 14 years.
Perksy voluntarily recused himself from all criminal cases last week and has since set up a website to fight his recall. Inmates are routinely set free early due to good behavior.
As a condition of his release, Turner will be required to complete a sex offender management program and participate in polygraph tests, according to his probation conditions. He is also banned from stepping on the Stanford campus ever again. As of Friday, he had already registered as a sex offender on the U.S. Department of Justice's website.
Categorized as a tier-3 offender, Turner will have to re-register as a sex offender every three months in Ohio. To get off the offender list, he must get a pardon from California’s governor.
The Greene County sheriff told NBC Bay Area he expects Turner to check in with him next week.
NBC Bay Area's Shawn Murphy, Robert Handa, Rick Boone and Henry Mulak contributed to this report.
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