The judge who has come under fire for sentencing a former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman to six months in jail said he justified the decision because he thought Brock Turner showed sufficient remorse in a statement — even though his victim said he doesn't "get it."
Though Turner faced a maximum of 14 years in prison — and the minimum sentencing guidelines in California call for two years — Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky decided to sentence him to the six months. Turner is expected to serve half that time; there are calls to overturn his ruling.
The sentence drew widespread outrage after a powerful letter the survivor wrote to Turner and read aloud in court was posted online. In the message, the survivor said she told Turner's probation officer "what I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing. Unfortunately, after reading the defendant’s report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct."
At Turner's sentencing hearing, according to a transcript, Persky said deciding if the assailant was remorseful was "one of the most conflicted and difficult issues in this case." He added he felt he expressed a "genuine feeling of remorse."
"And so you have Mr. Turner expressing remorse, which I think, subjectively, is genuine, and [the survivor] not seeing that as a genuine expression of remorse because he never says, 'I did this. I knew how drunk you were, I knew how out of it you were and I did it anyway,'" Persky said.
That, Persky said, will likely never happen: "I don't think that bridge will, probably, ever be crossed."
Persky also said he factored in character letters written by Turner’s family and friends and his intoxication during the 2015 sexual assault to justify his decision.
During the hearing, Persky heard from the survivor; Turner; Turner's father; and the prosecution and defense attorneys.
Persky said that as he considered Turner's sentence, he asked himself, “Is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison? Is incarceration in state prison the right answer for poisoning [the survivor's] life?”
He also read part of a letter written by Leslie Rasmussen, one of Turner’s friends, who said, “If I had to choose one kid I graduated with to be in the position Brock is, it would never have been him.”
This, Persky said, indicated that up until this case, Turner had “complied with social and legal norms sort of above and beyond what normal law-abiding people do.”
He also appeared to respond directly to a line in the victim’s letter that acknowledged Turner’s fortunate circumstances as a student-athlete.
“I think ... you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life,” he said.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.