An Illinois judge has come under fire after he withdrew an 18-year-old man’s guilty conviction in a sexual assault case, saying the 148 days the man spent in jail was sufficient punishment for the alleged crime against a 16-year-old girl.
Eliciting criticism from victims’ advocates and shocking the 16-year-old and her parents, Adrian sided with Clinton’s attorneys, who argued that the 18-year-old should not be sent to prison because of his age, educational abilities and lack of a criminal record. The judge said Clinton had already endured “plenty of punishment.”
The district attorney said the decision was a blow to the victim’s healing, but the judge said the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the girl, Cameron Vaughan, had not given consent. He also blamed adults for providing alcohol to the teenagers at a party the night of the alleged attack.
“This is what’s happened when parents do not exercise their parental responsibilities,” Adrian said, according to hearing transcripts obtained by The Washington Post. “When we have people, adults, having parties for teenagers, and they allow co-eds and female people to swim in their underwear in their swimming pool.”
On Oct. 15, Clinton was found guilty on one of three counts, of digitally penetrating Cameron without consent, and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Adrian reversed his decision following a pair of post-trial motions by Clinton’s attorney, explaining that the only way to circumvent the mandatory sentence was to overturn his previous verdict — which fueled a wave of ire against him.
At a time when rape and sexual assault are some of the least-reported violent crimes, advocates fear such a decision could discourage victims from seeking justice. For Cameron, it has become an opportunity to urge other women to speak up.
“Whenever you keep it to yourself and hide it, it causes more pain,” said the 16-year-old, who asked to be identified, with permission from her father.
“She was just getting to the point where the wounds were slowly starting to heal,” said her father, Scott Vaughan. “But the judge basically just ripped the scab right back off.”
Cameron said she and her friends went to a graduation party on May 30, where alcohol was involved and the teenagers jumped into the pool in their underwear. She said she passed out after drinking “way too much.” About 5 a.m., she said she woke up to Clinton pushing a pillow down on her face and sexually assaulting her.
“I said ‘stop,’ and he either didn’t hear or didn’t want to listen,” she said. “And then after I put my pants up and started leaving the room, he jumped up and started playing video games as if he didn’t even do anything.”
Andrew Schnack, who represented Clinton, said the girl had given consent, which his client told police and had testified to on the witness stand.
“He clearly believes that it was consensual and tells the same story over and over,” Schnack said. “And the question is, does the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he should have known she wasn’t consenting? They don’t have any evidence. There’s only two people in the room and one of them is saying she doesn’t remember.”
Adams County Assistant State’s Attorney Anita Rodriguez, who prosecutes sex crimes for the office, said the verdict was a setback.
“When a guilty verdict or a plea of guilty to the sexual assault is entered, it is a step forward in the healing process because the guilty verdict tells the victim ‘I believe you,’ ” she wrote in an email. “When the guilty verdict is taken away, it places the victim ‘emotionally’ back in the same position they were in before.”
Rodriguez said resources such as counseling will remain available to Cameron.
Thousands of people have signed an online petition demanding that Adrian be charged with abuse of judicial discretion and power.
After the decision, Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse (Quanada) warned in a statement: “If you are raped, avoid Judge Adrian’s courtroom.”
Tensions reached a high Wednesday, when Adrian kicked out Josh Jones, the lead trial attorney for the same office prosecuting Clinton, from a proceeding over a crash that killed four people. Adrian said he could not be “fair” to Jones, because his wife saw that Jones had liked a Facebook comment attacking him. Jones said the post was from Quanada, the Herald-Whig reported.
“I can’t be fair with you. Get out,” Adrian said, according to the report.
Schnack, however, said Adrian has garnered a reputation for “giving everyone a fair trial” since he was first elected to court in 2010.
Megan Duesterhaus, Quanada’s executive director, said victims’ advocates have felt Adrian has been fair in the past, despite disagreements, but his comments in the Clinton case went too far.
“This was like crossing a giant line,” Duesterhaus said. “We have lost confidence in him.”
Adrian’s actions have drawn parallels to the Brock Turner case — in which the judge feared imprisonment would have a “severe” impact on a star Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault.
Such cases underscore a trend in which victims are denied justice at the expense of young, White men with seemingly promising careers, said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
“It sounds like the victim did everything right, participated in the process and made it all the way to the end, only to have the rug pulled out,” Berkowitz said. “It’s definitely the type of case that would discourage other victims, who already don’t think putting themselves through the criminal justice process will actually lead to justice.”
Rape and sexual assault are among the least reported violent crimes, according to the Justice Department. Less than a quarter of rape and sexual assault crimes were reported to police in 2020, down from about one-third the year before, according to a Justice Department report.
The Vaughans have considered seeking justice in civil court but were skeptical about success given the reversal, Scott Vaughan said. The judge’s decision dealt a devastating blow to the family and Cameron, a onetime honor-roll athlete who has spent months in therapy since a suicide attempt weeks after the alleged assault.
“She told me, ‘I never should’ve said anything,’ ” Scott Vaughan recalled after the hearing.
“To be a father and see your girl go through that, there’s no words for the heartbreak,” he added. “But now I see her having the courage to speak up and I just couldn’t be prouder of her.”
Since news of the judge’s reversal, Cameron has received an outpouring of support and found a new purpose for sharing her story.
“Even though I didn’t get the justice that I should have, I’ve had multiple girls text me saying that my story has helped them come out with theirs,” she said. “That’s why I want my story out there.”