Earlier this week, a Texas judge accepted a plea deal in the case of a former Baylor University fraternity president who was accused of raping a young woman at a party in 2016.
Instead of jail time, Jacob Anderson was offered probation, a fine and counseling in exchange for a guilty plea on the charge of unlawful restraint, a lesser charge than what he initially faced: four counts of sexual assault.
A bitter outcry ensued, drawing comparisons to recent cases that made national headlines when male defendants accused of sex crimes were given seemingly light sentences. A petition signed by more than 26,000 at Anderson’s new university followed, calling for the 23-year-old’s removal from campus.
Now, officials at that school — the University of Texas at Dallas — say Anderson is banned from campus and will not be permitted to attend his commencement ceremony next week, though he will still receive his diploma.
UT Dallas president Richard C. Benson said in a statement that he was “grateful to the UT Dallas students, faculty and other community members who have shared their concerns, disappointment and outrage over this student’s presence on our campus."
“There is nothing more important at UT Dallas than the safety and security of our students,” Benson said Wednesday night.
School officials said Anderson will not be allowed to return to campus, not even as a guest.
Anderson’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Two years ago, Anderson was accepted to UT Dallas after he was arrested and expelled from Baylor, where he served as chapter president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
He was indicted in the spring of 2016, and Benson, the UT Dallas president, said the university admitted Anderson without knowing his “legal history.”
Anderson studied finance at UT Dallas, according to local media reports.
The news of his campus ban came one day after his attorneys addressed the plea-deal backlash for the first time. The lawyers, Tim Moore and Mark Daniel, told the Waco Tribune-Herald that they wanted to clarify “what we consider to be a significant misrepresentation by people who appear to know nothing about the facts in this case.”
Moore and Daniel said the accuser’s victim-impact statement was “riddled with distortions and misrepresentation,” and they laid out their argument for why they believed her recollection of events was unreliable — a case they would have made in court had prosecutors decided to take Anderson to trial, they said.
At a hearing Monday, the victim, who was 19 at the time of the alleged assault, asked Judge Ralph Strother to reject the plea offer to Anderson and set a trial date so she could testify in court, according to the Tribune-Herald.
In the victim impact statement she read aloud in court, the woman called out two prosecutors, 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, referring to McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna and the assistant district attorney on the case, Hilary LaBorde. “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 newspaper reported.
The victim told police she woke up choking on her own vomit.
“By the grace of God I am alive today to fight this injustice,” she wrote in her impact statement. “One breath either way and Jacob Walter Anderson would be on trial for murder.”
The district attorney’s office released a statement from LaBorde 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 “there are many facts that the public does not have,” without giving more details.
In an email to the victim and her family 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.”
The district attorney’s office dismissed the four counts of sexual assault in exchange for a lesser charge of unlawful restraint. It recommended 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 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, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported. 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.”
In their statement defending the plea deal, Anderson’s attorneys told the Waco Tribune-Herald the woman had been drinking before she ever arrived at the party and there was “some passionate kissing, groping and grinding by this girl and Mr. Anderson.” They disputed the woman’s claims she was drugged and choked, reported the paper.
Daniels cited a photo that was taken of the woman at the hospital after the alleged rape as evidence she was emotionally okay. “She is smiling and eating a cheese cracker with a full grin on her face,” Daniels told the Tribune-Herald.
The attorneys also said there was no genetic evidence tying Anderson to the alleged assault, the newspaper reported.
Vic Feazell, the victim’s attorney and a former McLennan County prosecutor, told the Tribune-Herald it was “easy for them to say all that . . . after the fact.”
“That is what trials are for,” Feazell told the newspaper.
The photo from the hospital was “just one second in time,” he added.
“Why was she at the hospital in the first place if she hadn’t been raped?” he said. “If they had such a damn good case, let’s go try it.”
Feazell told the Star-Telegram he had never seen anything like the deal Anderson was offered.
“It stinks to high hell,” he said.
But, he told reporters, he was “sorry about any flak” that Strother, the judge, was taking for accepting the plea deal and described him as an “honorable man” he had known for 35 years. “I know he agonized over that decision. It is his decision,” Feazell told the Tribune-Herald. “He is the guy who wears the black robe. He is the guy who makes the decisions.”
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.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of Anderson’s indictment. It has been corrected.