Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Brock Turner case: Heroes were needed sooner

                                                      'Scary Path' along Lake Lagunita 

Unlike most campus sex attackers, Brock Turner was caught because of alert, brave witnesses. The problem is, the heroes came too late.

The former Stanford swimmer, convicted Wednesday of three felony counts of sexual assault against an unconscious, intoxicated woman, faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The law allows lesser sentences, even probation since violence was not alleged, though it's hard to imagine that as the outcome when sentencing occurs June 2.

As a Stanford alumnus and sports fan, I was interested in the case and attended some of the trial, including closing arguments. My impression was that conviction on two of the counts--sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person and penetration of an intoxicated person--was all but certain, and I was somewhat surprised he hadn't taken a plea bargain. Maybe none was offered.

The third count, assault with intent to rape, didn't seem as clear, since Turner never took his pants off. Two counts alleging rape were dropped before trial. The jury deliberated for two days before convicting him of the remaining three.

His mom cried and stamped her feet when Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci asked that he sent to prison immediately, which the judge denied. The victim cried and smiled.

Turner, 20, who had Olympic dreams in freestyle and backstroke, came off at the trial as a mild-mannered, polite kid (he looks younger than his 20 years), not a cocky, entitled Jameis Winston type. A former girlfriend testified he was "extremely respectful."

But that's not what the evidence showed.

He attended a party at the Kappa Alpha fraternity along Lake Lagunita on January 18, 2015. He wasn't a member of the fraternity--Stanford freshmen live in dorms.

A group of young women showed up at the party. Only one was a Stanford student. Her friend brought along her older sister, a recent college graduate who had attended Gunn High School in Palo Alto. They had been drinking champagne and whiskey.

Turner, who had consumed seven beers and a couple swigs of whiskey, went up to the younger sister and kissed her with no warning, one of the women testified. He admitted he was out to hook up.

The woman who was a Stanford student got so drunk her friends, including the younger sister, left to take her back to her dorm, leaving the older sister alone slightly after midnight. Mistake. The victim has no memory of what happened, but we know from her cell records that she called her boyfriend on the East Coast and left an incoherent, rambling two-minute message.

Turner testified he asked the woman if she wanted to go back to his dorm, but once outside, they slipped and fell on a rough patch of ground--there were leaves and pine needles around--and they just started making out. He says he asked her at every step if she wanted to continue, and she said yes. So he rubbed her breasts and started fingering her sexually.

Next thing we know is about 1 a.m., when two Swedish graduate students cycled by on what's known as "Scary Path" because of its bumps and ruts.

They saw Turner thrusting his hips, dry humping a woman who was naked below the waist and appeared to be unconscious. One of them, Lars Peter Johnson, got off his bike, approached, and yelled at Turner "What the fuck do you think you're doing? She's unconscious."

Turner got up and ran. Johnson chased him down and held him on the ground while his friend Carl Arndt checked on the unconscious victim. Someone called 911. The police arrived and arrested Turner. They tested him and found DNA on his fingers that matched the victim.

The average person imprisoned for sexual penetration with a foreign object serves about 55 months, according to CDCR data. So Turner will still be a young man when he gets out of prison, but his life isn't likely to have a happy ending.

  • He was expelled from Stanford. He may be able to get a college degree, even while behind bars, but he won't be admitted to a medical school as he once dreamed.
  • He won't be an Olympic swimmer. USA Swimming bans sex offenders for life.
  • He won't be able to coach.
  • He faces lifetime registration as a sex offender. The only way to get out of it is to wait at least 10 years from the time he is released from custody, get a certificate of rehabilitation from a judge (requiring a lot of evidence) and have the governor pardon him. Even then, since he was convicted of multiple felonies, he'd need approval of the California Supreme Court.

Most likely, he'll go back to Dayton and live with his parents, who were extremely supportive during the trial.

A cursory reading of Ohio law indicates they may have to move, if they live within 1,000 feet of a school. Everyone in his neighborhood will know a sex offender lives there. Neighbors who know his parents probably will be supportive, but newcomers might not be.

Sex-offender registration is the scarlet letter of the 21st century.

Maybe his parents can set him up with some kind of job. Some woman might agree to marry him, but she'll know their children could be teased and hassled. He's a fool if he ever touches alcohol again.

Do I have any experience with his situation? A little. When I was at Stanford, many years ago, I remember a guy who talked a lot knocking on my door and telling me the girl in the room across the hall was totally drunk. I was studying and sober.

I went across the hall. Her door was unlocked. I lay next to her on a mattress and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled and said something to me, not coherently, and I realized I could probably do...whatever. I thought "this is wrong" and walked out.

I don't know what happened to her, but thinking back on it, I should have called an RA before the chatterbox gave the next guy the word.

We all know a lot of guys at many colleges could be found guilty of sexual assault too, except they weren't so drunkenly stupid as to take their victim near a bike path and be stopped by two grad students, whom Kianerci called "heroes."

But in many of those cases, there must have been witnesses at the party who could have stepped in before the man lured the woman to his room. They could have been heroes too.

 Some people say the solution is to teach boys, "don't rape." Definitely. But that's not totally going to solve the problem given the ubiquitous nature of alcohol and the hookup culture.

There were plenty of people around the KA party. Any one of them could have told the party organizers: "I saw this drunk guy go up to a girl (the victim's sister) and just randomly kiss her, you should get him out of here."  Or later, "Hey man, don't grab her hand and lead her away, she's drunk."

Parents and colleges should stress that every single person attending a campus party needs to take responsibility for watching out for everyone's welfare, especially people who are drunk. Keep women from being sexually assaulted and men from ruining their lives.


  1. I think you might be confused on the fact that Brock still had his pants on and only dry humped her. The court transcripts indicate that the police officer at the scene said he appeared to have an erect penis. That indicates that his pants were down. Here is a link to the court documents , scroll to the bottom and you will see the 88 pages of the court documents and sentencing.

  2. I read the transcript and the officer says he viewed the bulge through his pants. There was no dispute his pants were on, that's why the original rape charge was dismissed.