A Texas judge on Monday accepted a plea deal allowing a former Baylor University student accused of raping a woman at a fraternity party to avoid serving jail time, marking at least the third time the judge has approved lenient punishment for men accused of sexual assault.
Judge Ralph Strother accepted the plea deal for Jacob Walter Anderson, who was indicted on four sexual assault charges and pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint. A no contest plea means a person does not admit guilt, but will offer no defense. Anderson was expelled from Baylor after a university investigation.
The woman who accused him of repeatedly raping her at a 2016 fraternity house party expressed outrage at the plea agreement and described the county's justice system as "severely broken." An online petition had been created to oppose the plea agreement and received thousands of signatures.
The woman has not been named and The Associated Press has a policy of not naming possible victims of sexual assault.
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The deal from prosecutors allowed Anderson to receive deferred probation. The ex-Phi Delta Theta fraternity president agreed to seek counseling and pay a $400 fine. Anderson will not be forced to register as a sex offender.
The woman said she felt disoriented after accepting a drink she thought contained punch at a 2016 fraternity house party. She said Anderson led her behind a tent and repeatedly raped her while gagging and choking her.
A warrant said the woman was assaulted until she lost consciousness and Anderson left her alone. The warrant said she had vomited on herself and could have choked to death in the backyard.
The victim read an emotional victim impact statement from the stand, saying in part:
“I am devastated by your decision to let my rapist Jacob Walter Anderson go free without any punishment. Rape is a violent crime that alters the victim’s life and the life of everyone around them forever. He stole many things from me the night he raped me. I will never be the same again… He stole my body, virginity and power over my body and you let him keep it all for eternity."
She went on to thank the creator of an online petition opposing the plea deal, Erin Albin.
Albin is a Baylor graduate student pursuing a dual social work and seminary degree. She started gathering signatures against the plea deal when it was announced in October.
"Our goal was 5,000 by December 10th and we ended up with about 86,000," Albin told NBC5.
Albin was moved to act when she heard details of the case.
"She went to the hospital and she reported it and everything and still nothing was done,” Albin said. “So it sends a message to survivors that what's the point of reporting, you're not going to be believed."
But despite her disappointment, Albin says the messages of support from all over the world...
"New Zealand, New York," she read off the petition page. "Portugal, France"
Show this fight is far from over.
"I just want her to know that she's heard and she's believed and she's valued," Albin said.
McLennan County Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde, released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“As I did when this plea agreement was offered, I believe today’s sentencing by Judge Strother was the best outcome given the facts of this case. Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. As a prosecutor, my goal is no more victims. I believe that is best accomplished when there is a consequence rather than an acquittal. This offender is now on felony probation and will receive sex offender treatment, a result which was not guaranteed, nor likely, had we gone to trial.
I would also urge those upset about this agreement to consider their source of information. Any lawyer can issue a statement, but taking a statement and proving the truth of its contents beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, when a complaining witness is subject to cross examination, is a different task entirely. Given the claims made publicly, I understand why people are upset. However, all of the facts must be considered and there are many facts that the public does not have. In approving this agreement, Judge Strother had access to all the statements that have ever been made by all people involved and agreed that the plea agreement offered was appropriate in this case.”
The judge's decision Monday is not the first time that Strother has allowed such lenient punishment for sex crimes. Last year, he sentenced a man to deferred probation after he pleaded guilty in the 2013 rape of a former Baylor student. The judge ordered the man to pay for the woman's counseling. The man told police the woman had been drunk, according to an affidavit.
Strother earlier this year sentenced a man to felony probation for the sexual assault of a former Baylor student, a punishment that came with 30 days in jail. Adrian Andres Ramos, was working toward a degree from Texas Tech University and was allowed to serve the jail time on the weekends. Ramos told authorities he believed the sex with the woman was consensual.
Strother did not return a call from The Associated Press, nor from NBC5 seeking comment on his decision to accept Anderson's plea deal.
Anderson's attorneys declined to comment Monday.
Baylor was engulfed in a sexual assault scandal tied to its football program in 2016, ultimately leading to the departure of several school leaders.
NBC5's Alice Barr contributed to this report.