A former Baylor University fraternity president accused of sexual assault was offered a plea deal Monday that would result in probation and counseling but no jail time for him, sparking declarations of outrage and protests in the community.
Jacob Walter Anderson, 23, of Garland, was accused of raping a 19-year-old student, referred to as Donna Doe, at a Phi Delta Theta party in 2016. He was arrested, expelled from the university and, in June 2018, indicted on four counts of sexual assault, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Anderson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of felony restraint in McLennan County court on Monday. In exchange, the district attorney’s office dismissed the sexual assault charges and recommended three years of probation, a $400 fine and counseling for Anderson. Anderson would also not have to register as a sex offender.
Anderson previously faced two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the sexual assault charges, according to Texas state law.
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“There have been 180 calls to the judge’s office, the community is outraged,” said attorney Vic Feazell, a former district attorney who is serving as the spokesperson for Doe’s family. “It’s not fair to let this rapist walk away with not even a slap on the wrist.”
Neither Anderson nor his attorneys could be reached to comment on the case.
The family had filed an objection against the plea deal on Aug. 29 shortly after it was first proposed on Aug. 23.
On Monday, Judge Ralph Strother accepted the deal made between Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde and Anderson’s lawyers, Mark Daniel of Fort Worth and Guy Cox of Waco. He set a sentencing date of Dec. 10.
In a statement, Doe and her family called the plea agreement an “absolute travesty.”
“By agreeing to this plea, Hilary LaBorde and the McLennan County DA have allowed that rape is no longer a crime in Texas,” the statement said. “They are telling the rapists and sexual predators . . . Go ahead and violently rape, choke to near death and abandon your unconscious, ravaged and used up victim and we will make darn sure you get some counseling.”
LaBorde could not be reached for comment Thursday. Daniels could not be reached for comment and Cox did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Some Baylor students, community members and Doe’s family are hoping to persuade Judge Strother to reconsider his acceptance of the plea deal before he sentences Anderson in December.
The night of the frat party
On Feb. 20, 2016, the 19-year-old referred to as Donna Doe attended her first fraternity party as a junior at the Phi Delt Ranch, a house used for parties by Phi Delta Theta, according to a lawsuit she filed against the fraternity.
While at the party, someone handed Doe a cup of punch. After drinking the punch, Doe immediately started to feel woozy, the lawsuit says.
Anderson led Doe outside to a secluded area behind a tent “to get some air,” according to Anderson’s arrest affidavit with Waco police. Anderson pushed Doe to the ground and started to assault her.
“The guy violently raped me multiple times,” Doe said in an email sent to Feazell, which was included in the objection motion on the plea deal. “Choked me and when I blacked out, he dumped me face down on the ground and left me to die. When I woke up, I was aspirating on my own vomit.”
When Doe woke up, she immediately told a friend what happened, went to the hospital and reported the assault to Waco police, according to the affidavit.
A rape examination determined Doe had been sexually assaulted, Feazell said.
“This girl was nearly choked to death, she was left passed out in the grass outside a frat party,” he said. “She had marks on her throat that witnesses remember seeing.”
Anderson was arrested by police and indicted on four counts of sexual assault.
Anderson’s attorneys, Guy Cox out of Waco and Mark Daniel from Fort Worth, could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.
‘A sweetheart of a deal’
Feazell said the plea offer came out of nowhere and the family found out about it from the local newspaper on Aug. 23.
Doe, her mother and her father started emailing Feazell, panicked, he said. In the emails, they said they were blindsided by the offer because the prosecutor, LaBorde, told them a conviction would be reached in the case.
“I am so upset and don’t know why Hilary offered him a plea!” Doe said in an email sent to Feazell on Aug. 28. “She promised us she would not do this.”
“What is going on?” Doe’s mother said in an email to Feazell on Aug. 23. “This man raped our daughter 4 times and left her to die!!! Hilary said she would not offer a plea!! She is not answering!”
LaBorde did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
McLennan County District Attorney Abelino Reyna defended the deal in a statement:
“The McLennan County District Attorney’s office is known throughout the State for our aggressive prosecution of sexual assault cases, to say otherwise is simply absurd. Let us remind everyone that our oath is to seek Justice. In pursuit of that ideal, we must evaluate each case alone on its own merit.”
Feazell, who was a McLennan County district attorney from 1983 to 1988, said the plea agreement makes no sense to him.
“I’ve never seen a sweetheart of a deal like this in my history here,” he said.
Doe said in an email she felt betrayed by LaBorde.
“I have been waiting two and a half years for a trial,” Doe said in the email to Feazell. “I have been through hell and back and my life has been forever turned upside down. I feel like I should have the right to the trial for the four counts of sexual assault the grand jury indicted him on.”
“This is the reason rape victims hesitate to report the crime. I had the courage to report the crime, go through an investigation, wait all these years to testify. I have had the courage to keep on living so I can testify.”
In his statement defending the plea bargain, district attorney Reyna also said Doe was not drugged before the alleged assault.
“Early in this case, law enforcement believed that the victim may have been drugged and this belief has been widely disseminated in the media; however, the evidence did not support that theory,” the statement said. “This office stands by the plea offered and believes we have achieved the best result possible with the evidence at hand. “
However, Feazell said the district attorney’s focus on whether or not Doe was drugged at the frat party is misguided.
Feazell said based on Baylor’s investigation, there was a large amount of Everclear at the frat party. Everclear is an extremely strong alcohol that is 75.5 to 95 percent ethanol and may have caused Doe to feel sick, he said.
More importantly, he said, whether or not Doe was drugged does not indicate whether or not she was assaulted.
“Being drugged is not an element of being raped. You don’t have to prove that you were drugged, just that sex was taken without consent,” he said. “He wasn’t arrested for drugging her. He was arrested for rape.”
A message to victims?
Erin Albin, a graduate student at Baylor, organized a letter writing campaign and started an online petition in protest of the plea offer at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The petition had over 1,600 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
“We, the undersigned, are outraged about this plea bargain offer from the outgoing DA. We trust the people doing the pre-sentence investigation and we trust Judge Strother to ultimately make the right decision in this matter,” the petition says.
“I think if that were to go through, it sends a message to all women,” Albin said about the plea offer. “It says sexual assault doesn’t matter and it doesn’t matter if someone assaults you. And if you have a certain status in society, you can get away with sexual assault.”
In the family’s statement, Doe said the plea offer sends a message to victims and rapists alike.
“Even if a grand jury indicts you on four counts of sexual assault, we don’t care. Oh and all you rape victims, don’t bother to report it, because we will put you through hell for years, make promises about getting a conviction and lie to you about not accepting a plea the whole time. We will give your rapist counseling and drop all charges and let him go free! We don’t care about justice and we don’t care about you.”
Feazell said if Anderson is given probation, the result would perpetuate a culture of sexual abuse that he said has been coming to light in the United States.
“It sends a really bad message to similarly situated women. And it sends a bad message to Baylor fraternity boys who think they can get away with it. Or any young men who think they can get away with it,” he said.
Anderson’s sentencing in December will come after a pre-sentencing investigation by the probation department. The investigation could take anywhere from six to eight weeks, Feazell said.
Judge Strother does not have to accept the plea and Feazell, Albin and others are hoping he does not.
“We all need to work together to make sure the guilty are punished and the victims of rape are taken care of,” Feazell said.
On Feb. 19, Doe filed a suit against national and local chapters of Phi Delta Theta. The suit also names 16 people associated with the Baylor fraternity, including the landlord of the house the party occurred at and five former members who Doe says held leadership roles at the time of the assault.
The national chapter of Phi Delta Theta sent the following statement in regards to the suit and Anderson’s case:
“Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity removed Mr. Anderson from membership following the February 2016 incident and suspended the charter of the local chapter. We are a values-based organization committed to promoting a culture of responsibility in our chapters and remain vigilant in protecting the safety of our members and guests. Any action that is abusive or offensive towards women directly contradict those same values and violates our organizational policies.”
Baylor has a history of sexual assault controversies.
In 2016, Delores Lozano, a former Baylor student sued Baylor for failing to sufficiently take proper Title IX action when she reported a member of the football team, David Chafin, allegedly assaulted her in 2014.
In May 2017, the NCAA began its investigation of Baylor to look into the specifics of a rape scandal that shadowed the university for well over a year and ultimately led to the dismissal of football coach Art Briles in May 2016.
In 2018, Baylor University settled a Title IX lawsuit filed by a former volleyball player who accused four to eight football players of drugging and gang raping her in 2012.