A judge accepted the controversial plea deal for a former Baylor University fraternity president accused of sexual assault, granting Jacob Walter Anderson no jail time, according to a representative for State District Judge Ralph Strother. He will not have to register as a sex offender.
Strother made the decision on the deal at an 8:30 a.m. hearing in Waco on Monday.
Anderson, 23, of Garland, was accused of raping a 19-year-old student, referred to as Donna Doe in court documents, 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.
On Oct. 15, Anderson was offered a deal that would result in probation and counseling but no jail time, sparking declarations of outrage and protests in the community.
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Under the deal, Anderson agreed to plead no contest to a lesser charge of felony restraint. In exchange, the district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss the four sexual assault charges he was indicted on. The deal includes a recommended three years of deferred adjudication probation, a $400 fine and psychological, alcohol and substance abuse counseling for Anderson, according to a representative with the McLennan County district attorney’s office.
Anderson has waived any right to appeal the ruling, according to the McLennan County district clerk’s office.
Those granted deferred adjudication probation typically do not have the conviction placed on their record if they do not violate any of the conditions of their probation.
In a statement from the district attorney’s office sent Monday, the prosecutor handling the case, Hilary LaBorde, said she believes the sentence imposed by Judge Strother was the best outcome given the facts in the case.
“Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement read. “As a prosecutor, my goal is no more victims. I believe that is best accomplished when there is a consequence rather than an acquittal. This offender is now on felony probation and will receive sex offender treatment, a result which was not guaranteed, nor likely, had we gone to trial.”
LaBorde’s statement also cautioned those upset about the agreement to consider their source of information. Any lawyer can issue a statement, but taking a statement and proving the truth of its contents beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, when a complaining witness is subject to cross examination, is a different task entirely, the statement said.
“Given the claims made publicly, I understand why people are upset,” the statement read. “However, all of the facts must be considered and there are many facts that the public does not have. In approving this agreement, Judge Strother had access to all the statements that have ever been made by all people involved and agreed that the plea agreement offered was appropriate in this case.”
Attorney Vic Feazell called the plea agreement “a sweetheart of a deal” and said he had not seen anything like Anderson’s plea in his many years as an attorney and district attorney.
“I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Feazell said. “It stinks to high hell.”
Anderson originally faced two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the four sexual assault charges, according to Texas state law.
Feazell said the plea deal came as a shock to him and Doe’s family, who said in a statement they were reassured by LaBorde that the case against Anderson was “cut and dry” and he would “definitely be convicted.”
Donna Doe said Anderson raped her repeatedly at a frat party in 2016 when she was a sophomore at Baylor. In a lawsuit against the fraternity, she said she took a cup of punch at the party and immediately felt woozy after drinking it. Anderson led her behind a tent and assaulted her, she said.
In a statement to police, Doe said she blacked out and woke up alone, choking on her own vomit.
“By the grace of God I am alive today to fight this injustice,” Doe wrote in a victim impact statement to Strother. “One breath either way and Jacob Walter Anderson would be on trial for murder.”
In her statement, Doe stressed her concern that if Anderson did not have to register as a sex offender, he may assault another woman.
“What will they tell the next victim when she questions why she did not know Jacob Anderson was a sex offender? How does she think the girls in his current College classes feel knowing they could have been his next victim?” she wrote in her impact statement. “I am writing this letter to hold the DA accountable to do their job and seek justice. To hold Jacob Anderson accountable for his crimes. He raped me. He almost killed me.”
Doe said she and her family were blindsided by the plea deal by LaBorde, who Doe said assured them Anderson would be convicted.
In an email LaBorde sent the family, LaBorde says she offered the plea deal after losing a recent rape case in court. She drew similarities between Doe’s case and the other case and said she feared Anderson would be found not guilty.
“(The jury) engaged in a lot of victim blaming — and the behavior of that victim and (Doe) is very similar,” she said. “It’s my opinion that our jurors aren’t ready to blame rapists and not victims when there isn’t concrete proof of more than one victim.”
Since the plea deal was introduced, 85,000 people have signed an online petition against it started by fellow Baylor student Erin Albin.
Albin said earlier that if the plea deal was approved it would send a message to all women.
“It says sexual assault doesn’t matter and it doesn’t matter if someone assaults you,” she said. “And if you have a certain status in society, you can get away with sexual assault.”
Katharine Esser, assistant director of Research and Training at the Women’s Center of Tarrant County, which advocates for victims of sexual violence, worries that outcomes in cases like this could silence victims of sexual violence.
People look to the criminal justice system to keep them safe and deliver justice and that system has to be held accountable, Esser said. Perhaps the “Me Too” movement has made stories like this that might not have gotten much news coverage in the past too important to ignore, Esser said.
“Communities need to find ways to become involved so eventually we don’t have sexual assault as a public health issue,” Esser said. “Tarrant County has some promising things going on in the (Tarrant County) district attorney’s intimate partner violence unit. We are training with them so that these systems are more trauma informed and victim friendly.”