GOVERNMENT IN SECRECY PAYS OFF
It’s a shame that Judge Ralph Strother knows the truth BUT he can’t tell you. The prosecutors, well, they definitely can’t tell you. THIS is how we conduct business in McLennan County. Funny business. Risky business for others, unless you are rich and rather nice looking.
Our Judges only answer to the voters once every four years, Strother is so old he can’t even run again, thank goodness, however, that doesn’t stop him from rubber stamping the DA’s suggestion and secret reasons for a very public plea.
Strother should get a commendation from the Chamber of Commerce, as I am sure people will be wanting to visit a place where justice is totally upside down.
Jacob Anderson, Mr. Lucky Baylor Frat Boy, wealthy parents, pretty face, no rape charges, bright future restored by Waco Good Old Boys.
WACO — Justice may have been served Monday in Waco, but as I watched the opposing sides in a sexual assault case walk out of the packed courtroom, it was difficult to initially feel anything but despair.
Moments earlier, state District Judge Ralph Strother had accepted a generous plea deal that outgoing McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna made with former Baylor fraternity president and Garland resident Jacob Walter Anderson.
Shoulders back and head high, Anderson, whose original four counts of sexual assault were reduced to a single charge of unlawful restraint, strode through the swarm of cameras alongside well-known Fort Worth lawyer Mark Daniel.
The woman who accused Anderson of sexually assaulting her and leaving her face down in her own vomit dissolved into her own lawyer’s embrace. Attorney Vic Feazell steadied her as — sobbing and trembling — she tried to absorb the loss.
By all appearances, Anderson was the winner here. But in my eyes — and the eyes of the many people worldwide who have supported this young woman through her ordeal — she is nothing short of a twenty-something superwoman.
The alleged incident made big headlines back in 2016, occurring amid the Pepper Hamilton investigation into sexual assault at Baylor. Anderson, 20 years old at the time and a graduate of Naaman Forest High School in Garland, withdrew from Baylor about two weeks later.
The young woman’s account to police of the Feb. 21, 2016, assault at an off-campus Phi Delta Theta party was harrowing. After she drank a beverage of some sort that caused her to become disoriented, she alleged Anderson escorted her to a secluded area, forced her to the ground and sexuallts You Have to See
The Dallas Morning News generally does not typically identify people who say they were victims of sexual assault.
The victim told police that at some point she was unable to breathe and lost consciousness, then woke up alone. Friends took her to a nearby hospital, where medical personnel confirmed a sexual assault had occurred and called Waco police.
In a world where so many women are still too frightened by potential consequences or too pessimistic about the justice system to report sexual assault, this young woman seemed to have done everything right.
But for reasons that we’ll probably never know, the McLennan DA’s office offered a plea deal. The DA didn’t comment. Neither did Daniel, Anderson’s attorney. And Monday — despite tens of thousands of people signing petitions opposing the agreement, protests at the courthouse and a flood of email and messages to his office — Strother approved the plea agreement.
The penalty in this case is small: Anderson faces three years of probation, a paltry $400 fine and an order to seek unspecified counseling. He won’t spend a day in prison — nor will he have to register as a sex offender.
Under state law, Anderson originally faced two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the four original sexual assault charges.
Before heading to Waco for Monday’s sentencing hearing, I looked for some perspective on the proposed plea deal from Dallas criminal defense attorney Messina Madson, who previously served as the acting Dallas County district attorney. While Madson hasn’t followed the Anderson plea deal, she talked in general terms about the careful line that prosecutors must walk in these types of cases.
Even when a crime has been committed, additional factors can come up during cross examination and the rest of the trial that challenge the credibility of the victim, Madson said. If that sounds like “victim blaming,” she said, it’s nothing of the kind. Rather, it is about assessing the strength of the case.
And sometimes, prosecutors decide the best possible justice they will be allowed is through a plea bargain.
A woman may be very vocal about not liking a plea deal — as was the case with the former Baylor student and her family — but the prosecutor can’t explain the reasoning without, in effect, re-victimizing her.
“This is somebody who has had a traumatic experience — you just don’t want to take this event and wind up hurting the person more,” Madson said. “The prosecutor has a bigger picture to consider, along with what is the best way to behave in a difficult situation. The best way to behave is very often simply not talking.”
Strother seemed to imply the same in his remarks from the bench, saying that many of the comments aimed at Reyna’s office were “not fully informed, misinformed or totally uninformed.” Strother noted that, unlike the protesting public, he had the advantage of evaluating the extensive pre-sentencing investigation that he ordered from the probation department.
No matter that the woman and her parents were braced for Strother’s decision, that courtroom moment sucked the hope right out of them. Feazell asked the judge for his client to have a moment to compose herself before she delivered her victim response.
I’ve read this description from court stories all my life: The defendant sat stoically with his attorney as the victim addressed him. But that made it no less chilling to watch for the first time — and to wonder what was going through his mind as she detailed her version of what happened the night she wound up at the hospital — and the damage done to her life since then.
“Jacob Walter Anderson, it must be horrible to be you,” she said. “To know what you did to me. To know you are a rapist. To know that you almost killed me. To know that you ruined my life, stole my virginity and stole my future.”
For almost three years, unable to remain at Baylor, where she was a 19-year-old sophomore at the time of the incident, she has struggled with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks. She talked from front of the courtroom about simple, but powerful, examples of things lost to her, things that so many of us take for granted — attending football games, sitting in class, feeling safe with male acquaintances.
In the aftermath of this case, many will focus on the story line of “with outcomes such as this one, why report sexual assault in the first place?” And I admit that I fell into that thinking for a bit as I left the courtroom.
But that narrative would be an insult to this young woman — and all the others like her at Baylor and beyond — who have so courageously persevered in hopes of making men think twice before they wage crimes of sexual violence. This young woman has every reason to hold her head high.