A former Colorado college student who was convicted of raping an intoxicated woman he was pretending to take care of was sentenced to 20 years of probation and two years of a jail work-release program.
Austin James Wilkerson, a former University of Colorado student, had been facing 4 to 12 years in prison for sexual assault of a helpless victim and unlawful sexual contact. But district judge Patrick Butler instead sentenced him to 20 years to life on probation and two years on a work-release program, which would allow him to leave jail during the day to attend school or work, the Daily Camera first reported.
Under Colorado law, sex offenses are subject to "indeterminate sentencing," which refers to sentences that have a minimum range in jail or prison, but no release date. Defendants usually have to complete portions of sex-offender treatment in prison before being eligible for release.
"I've struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of, 'Do I put him in prison?'" Butler said in court, the Daily Camera reported. Butler added that he had discussed what kind of treatment Wilkerson would receive with people in the prison system.
"I don't know that there is any great result for anybody," Butler said. "Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated."
The victim had asked Butler to send Wilkerson to prison.
"Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night," she told the judge at the hearing.
Caryn Datz, the deputy district attorney, told BuzzFeed News Thursday that while she respected the judge's role, she was "disappointed" with the sentence.
"We felt we had very valid reasons for asking a prison sentence in this case," she said.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Saccomano also described Wilkerson as being "entitled."
"He felt entitled to rape her, he felt entitled to get away with it, and he felt entitled to lie on the stand about it," she told BuzzFeed News.
Saccomano said the judge agreed with the prosecution's use of the word "entitled" to describe Wilkerson during their sentencing argument.
On March 15, 2014, Wilkerson told his friends he was going to take care of the victim after she had too much to drink while celebrating St. Patrick's Day, prosecutors said. Instead, he "isolated and raped the half-conscious victim," according to a sentencing memorandum submitted by prosecutors.
Wilkerson also admitted that he "wasn't getting much of a response" from the victim as he penetrated her, according to prosecutors. He then masturbated until he ejaculated on her stomach. He also sent a message to the victim's friend who thanked him for caring for the victim.
During a university investigation, Wilkerson said he made repeated advances on the victim and that he felt "pissed off" and called her a "fucking bitch" when she rebuffed him each time, according to court documents.
However, during trial he testified that the victim was not drunk and that she engaged with him "passionately" and made "pleasure sounds."
During his trial testimony, Datz said Wilkerson indicated he had an expectation of sexual contact with the victim because he had taken her back to her house to take care of her.
Wilkerson testified in court that he had a "fun, sexy, passionate consensual sexual encounter" with the victim, despite admitting in pre-trial examinations that he had sexually assaulted the victim while she appeared to sleep, prosecutors said.
"There are of course some defendants who suffer from a genuine state of denial," Saccomano wrote in the sentencing memorandum. "This is not one of those defendants."
At the hearing Wednesday, Wilkerson apologized to the victim who had left the court before he spoke.
"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."
In recommending probation, the Probation Department noted that Wilkerson displayed a "striking" degree of accountability.
However, Saccamano told BuzzFeed News, "We absolutely do not believe he was genuinely remorseful."
In her impact statement, the victim said her life was "ruined socially, psychologically, academically, and financially."
Letters submitted in support of Wilkerson portrayed him as a victim, prosecutors said.
"The most traumatic incident that Austin has faced is this sexual assault case," one letter stated.
Another read: "I think he is a young man that will go far in this world if not defined by this one incident."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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