Earlier this year, the McLennan County district attorney’s office offered him a plea deal that quickly became the subject of bitter outcry from the victim, her family and many others following the case.
The district attorney’s office dismissed the four counts of sexual assault in exchange for a lesser charge of unlawful restraint, according to news reports. And it recommended that Anderson serve three years of deferred adjudication probation, pay a $400 fine and go to counseling in lieu of jail time, according to news reports. The deferred adjudication means the charge could eventually be dismissed if he does not violate the terms of his probation.
Seemingly lenient sentences for rape are not unheard of, and Anderson’s case underscores the difficulty in proving and prosecuting many sexual assault cases. Punishments are typically lessened and the level of crimes are downgraded as a result of plea agreements. Cases such as Anderson’s have caused swift and widespread outcry from victims, their families and communities.
Even in some instances in which prosecutors successfully proved to a jury that a crime has been committed, sentences have been highly criticized. Among the most notorious is that of Stanford University sex offender Brock Turner, whose six-month jail sentence after a sexual-assault conviction prompted nationwide outrage and the recall of the judge who imposed the punishment. A jury had convicted Turner of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the edge of campus.
In another case in Houston, a jury convicted a doctor of second-degree sexual assault for raping a hospital patient. The crime was punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but Shafeeq Sheikh was sentenced to 10 years of probation last August. Unlike Turner, Sheikh was sentenced by the jury, not the judge, because Texas, unlike most states, grants juries the power to set criminal punishments.
The closure of Anderson’s case on Monday was punctuated by sobs from the victim, who had asked the judge to reject the plea offer to Anderson and set a trial date so she could testify in court, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
In a victim impact statement she read later, she called out the assistant district attorney on the case, Hilary LaBorde, and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, neither of whom attended the hearing, the Tribune-Herald reported.
"If I had the courage to come back to Waco and face my rapist and testify, you could at least have had enough respect for me to show up today,” she said. “You both will have to live with this decision to let a rapist run free in society without any warning to future victims.”
And she had harsh words for Anderson.
“It must be horrible to be you,” she said, the newspaper reported. “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 many other things from me.”
According to the Star-Telegram, the woman said she drank some punch at the party and immediately felt woozy. She said Anderson led her behind a tent and assaulted her, the Star-Telegram reported.
The victim told police that she woke up choking on her own vomit, the newspaper reported.
“By the grace of God I am alive today to fight this injustice,” the victim wrote in her impact statement. “One breath either way and Jacob Walter Anderson would be on trial for murder.”
Mark Daniel, one of Anderson’s attorneys, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Anderson was indicted in June; he was also expelled from Baylor.
LaBorde and Reyna did not respond to requests for comment sent to their email addresses. The district attorney’s office released a statement from LaBorde to reporters that said she believed the case would have been hard to prove.
“Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. As a prosecutor, my goal is no more victims. I believe that is best accomplished when there is a consequence rather than an acquittal,” the statement read, according to the Star-Telegram.
She also said that “there are many facts that the public does not have,” without giving more details.
In an email to the victim and her family that local news outlets reported, LaBorde brought up another case she said was similar that had resulted in an acquittal.
“[The jury] engaged in a lot of victim blaming — and the behavior of that victim and [this victim] is very similar,” she wrote, according to local news outlets. “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.”
More than 85,000 people have since signed a digital petition expressing “outrage,” and calls and letters have flooded the office of the judge, Ralph Strother.
Paul Cassell, a former federal prosecutor and judge who is a law professor at the University of Utah, criticized the district attorney’s decision in an email to The Post.
“The prosecutor’s own evaluation of the case make clear that she is relying on an inappropriate consideration – specifically a prospective juror’s likely belief in ‘rape myths’ – in striking this remarkable deal," he said. "Given the violence alleged, this is not a split-the-difference case. Either the victim was forcibly raped or not – pick one or the other. It’s hard to understand why the prosecutor can somehow propose to view the facts through rose-colored glasses as some sort of low-level sexual misconduct appropriate for a probationary sentence.”
The victim and her family were outspoken in their anger that the case would not go to a trial, calling the deal “an absolute travesty.”
On Monday, Strother told the court that comments about the case made on social media lacked crucial information.
“I have been provided material from every perspective,” Strother said, according to the Baylor Lariat, the university’s student newspaper. “I have as good of information as possible from all perspectives of the matter. Being human, I can make wrong decisions. However, I cannot be uncertain about the decisions that I make.”
Vic Feazell, the victim’s attorney, told the Star-Telegram that he had never seen anything like the deal Anderson was offered.
“It stinks to high hell,” he said.
In some cases, a lack of criminal history and limitations of state laws have spared defendants from lengthy prison sentences despite disturbing circumstances surrounding the crime.
Last month, a young Washington state man was sentenced to less than three years in prison for raping an 18-year-old girl while she overdosed on drugs. Instead of calling 911, Brian Varela let Alyssa Noceda die, according to court records. The judge who sentenced Varela said she is bound by state law to keep the punishment to 34 months, the maximum allowed for the crimes to which Varela pleaded guilty and for someone without a criminal record.
Sentencing disparities even in cases that involve similar crimes are not unheard of, either. In 2016, a Montana man who repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading guilty to one count of incest. That same year, a California man who repeatedly raped his teenage daughter was sentenced to 1,503 years in prison after a jury convicted him of 186 felony charges.