Justice for Some

Judge Who Coddled Stanford Rapist Brock Turner Once Ran as Tough on Rape

Years before Judge Aaron Persky let preppy rapist Brock Turner off with a lighter-than-light sentence, he bragged about prosecuting sex crimes.

Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara Superior Court takes pride in having once been a sex crimes prosecutor.

“I became a criminal prosecutor for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, where I now prosecute sex crimes and hate crimes,” he wrote in a biography for the California League of Women Voters when he was running for a judgeship in 2002. “I focus on the prosecution of sexually violent predators, working to keep the most dangerous sex offenders in custody in mental hospitals.”

Persky likely figured that his résumé would go over well with women, but he nonetheless lost the election to a fellow prosecutor. He was appointed to the bench the following year by then Gov. Gray Davis.

The one-time battler of sexual predators is now reviled everywhere as the judge who sentenced a 20-year-old former Stanford swimming star named Brock Turner to a term of just six months for assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

Turner will be eligible for release on good behavior after serving just three months.

Persky made that determination last week despite the searing 12-page letter the 23-year-old victim read from in court, telling Turner, “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice.”

Also despite Turner having insisted on going to trial in the first place, thereby forcing his victim to relive the January 2015 assault on the witness stand, sobbing and becoming so distraught that the prosecutor had to ask the judge for a recess.

And despite Turner having sat impassive as his defense attorney cross-examined the victim about her partying habits, as if she were somehow to blame for what followed.

And despite Turner allowing on the stand that he sought out drunk girls at parties and insisting that the victim had given her verbal consent.

And despite two Good Samaritan bicyclists testifying that the victim had been sprawled unconscious and half-naked beside an outdoor dumpster when they came upon Turner sexually assaulting her.

And despite the Samaritans testifying that Turner tried to flee after one of them called out, “‘What the fuck are you doing? She’s unconscious.’”

And despite the nurse who had previously examined 700 other sex crime victims—including presumably those from cases that Persky himself had prosecuted—testifying that the victim in this case had suffered “significant trauma” to her vagina.

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And despite the jury of eight men and four women having deliberated for less than two days before finding Turner guilty of all three felonies, including the use of the foreign object.

And despite the current Santa Clara County sex crimes prosecutor, Alaleh Kianerci, having asked for a sentence of six years.

And despite that sentence in itself being a break, as Turner had faced a maximum of 14 years.

And despite Turner never acknowledging that he had sexually assaulted the victim.

And despite this assault being no less a sex crime than the ones Persky once prosecuted.

As the present sex crimes prosecutor, Kianerci, said prior to the sentencing, “Ultimately, the fact that the defendant preyed upon an intoxicated stranger on a college campus should not be viewed as a less serious crime than if he were to assault a stranger in downtown Palo Alto.”

Persky would have been right not to hold it against Turner that his father had written a jarringly unaware letter to the court.

But could Persky have possibly been so jarringly unaware himself as to consider the father’s plea that his son had already paid “a steep price” for “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”?

Crimes that often take no more than 20 minutes include murder and robbery as well as rape. Prisons are full of inmates whose existence was forever changed in less time, no doubt including people Persky has brought to justice.

Perhaps Turner looked too much like the star athletes Persky must have seen during his own Stanford days (Phi Beta Kappa, his bio notes). Stanford being a place where undergraduates have been known to put up posters of jock classmates in their dorm rooms.

Here may be actual bias in a judge, not some Trump-ed up, self-serving fiction involving ethnicity, but real favoritism arising from class.

In explaining his determination, Persky actually said he did not think the defendant’s “lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.”

Never mind that the jury had heard from two compellingly convincing eyewitnesses whose accounts were corroborated by considerable physical evidence.

Persky seemed to be casting some doubt on the verdict when he said, “The trial is a search for the truth. It’s an imperfect process.”

Persky suggested that everybody will just have to accept that the victim will never get what the judge understood she wants most: an acknowledgement by Turner that he sexually assaulted her.

“I don’t think that bridge will ever be crossed,” Persky said.

Persky seemed to imagine that Turner really had been apologizing to the victim when he said, “For anybody’s life to be impacted by my actions… makes me want to live the rest of my life to change it.”

Persky did not seem bothered that by “it” Turner did not mean the damage he had done to his victim, but instead the behavior of college kids.

Persky said approvingly that Turner had spoken of starting a “cause” to educate college kids about “excessive drinking and promiscuous sex.” The judge appeared untroubled that Turner failed to mention sexual assault.

In response to Persky’s sentencing determination, Kianerci, the prosecutor who now plays his former role, told the court, “The sad reality is that sexual assaults are committed by people you’d never expect, by people who look like Mr. Turner. The fact that he looks a certain way should not give him any leniency.”

Afterward, her boss, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, noted, “The punishment does not fit the crime.”

He went on, “The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse, and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim’s ongoing trauma.”

As word spread of the lighter than light sentence, a petition began circulating online calling for Persky’s recall.

Few people could have been mollified by the release of the mugshot of Brock Turner taken on the day of the sentencing.

The photo was not one of justice done, only of privilege observed.