Another violent crime, another slap on the wrist that undermines justice.

This time, a Boulder judge spared prison for convicted rapist Austin James Wilkerson.

“Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated,” said Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler before announcing lenience last week.

If Wilkerson cannot be rehabilitated, we might find out at the cost of another victim. Wilkerson’s crime carries a presumptive prison sentence of 4-12 years for a reason: sexual predators pose risk. The prosecution and victim asked for prison time. Instead, the judge gave two years of work release and 20 years of probation.

A petition to recall Butler collected more than 200,000 signatures within days. Colorado voters cannot recall judges, so it is merely a statement of widespread dismay. Butler is up for a retention vote in 2020.

Judges are not social workers. They are responsible for upholding justice. Period. That means holding violent convicts accountable and keeping the public safe. Rapists undergoing rehabilitation cannot threaten the general public if kept behind bars.

“No prison time for sexual assault sends a terrible message. My thoughts are with the victim,” tweeted Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, after Butler’s decision.

A jury found Wilkerson guilty of sexually assaulting a freshman woman in March 2014, when the perpetrator and victim were students at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The victim had overconsumed alcohol and was barely conscious. Wilkerson assured the woman’s friends he would care for her but raped her when the two were alone.

In a lengthy statement to the court, the victim detailed how her “life has been ruined socially, psychologically, academically, and financially” by the rape.

“When I’m not having nightmares of rape, retaliation, or retrial that goes awry, I’m having panic attacks,” she wrote.

The 2,000-word statement provides a graphic and sobering look at the prolonged trauma endured by victims of violent crime.

Critics throughout the country compare the Boulder case to that of convicted rapist Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer who raped an intoxicated woman while she was unconscious. Prosecutors wanted a six-year prison sentence. In June, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky gave Turner six months in county jail.

“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said.

Sure. We wouldn’t want “severe impact” for a man who severely and feloniously violated a woman, likely causing her severe long-term trauma.

Montana State District Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed a 30-day jail sentence in 2014 on a teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student. The traumatized girl killed herself before her offender’s sentencing. Baugh ignited a firestorm by saying the girl had been “older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist.

Maybe these injustices signal a viral strain of relativism, infecting small portions of the judiciary. The fashionable doctrine views right and wrong as practically interchangeable. If one tortures contextual considerations enough, to better understand deviant behavior, this philosophy could weaken distinctions between predators and victims.

The courtroom is not a philosophy lab. It is the people’s objective arbiter of laws based in thousands of years of wisdom and practical experience. Judges who don’t like this role, and refuse to impose sentences that befit serious crimes, should not be retained.

the gazette editorial board


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